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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    It’s always intense for Arizona

    UA forward Jordan Hill cradles the ball during Arizonas 69-50 win over Fresno State Dec. 16 in McKale Center. Hill averages 13.4 points and a team-high 7.3 rebounds per game.
    UA forward Jordan Hill cradles the ball during Arizona’s 69-50 win over Fresno State Dec. 16 in McKale Center. Hill averages 13.4 points and a team-high 7.3 rebounds per game.

    San Diego State at No. 19 Arizona

    It’s more than the white hair, black-rimmed glasses and 12-year age difference that sets San Diego men’s basketball head coach Steve Fisher apart from the No. 19 Arizona interim head coach Kevin O’Neill.

    Their individual thoughts about their respective teams, the Aztecs and the Wildcats – who square off in McKale Center at 1 p.m. on FSNA on Saturday in the 23rd edition of the Fiesta Bowl Classic – are what really distinguish the two coaches.

    “”We’re another game for Arizona, probably,”” Fisher said. “”For us, if we win this game, it will give us a little résumé-builder. And it won’t be easy.

    “”But it’s probably a bigger game for us than it is for them, to be quite honest with you, in terms of how we perceive it coming in here.””

    It’s not perceived the same on the other end.

    Moments later, O’Neill was asked for his reaction about Fisher’s comments.

    “”Who said that?”” he asked.

    “”I don’t approach any game like it’s just another game,”” O’Neill said. “”Every game to me should be life or death. That’s the way I look at all the games. I can assure you that if we don’t take the game seriously – that could be disastrous.””

    It’s probably a good thing that O’Neill keeps the Wildcats (8-2) on their toes. The Aztecs (9-2) have matched their best 11-game start in their 38 seasons at the Division I level, with eight of those contests played on the road or at a neutral site.

    SDSU is keyed by three players who average in double digits in scoring. Another three average more than eight points per game.

    After SDSU lost its all-time leading scorer in school history in Brandon Heath last season, forward Lorrenzo Wade, a 6-foot-6 junior, leads the team, netting 14.4 ppg and dishing out 2.6 assists per game.

    “”We share the ball,”” Fisher said. “”It’s why we’ve got five guys close to double figures (in scoring). … We’ve got a good team.””

    Meanwhile, Arizona boasts three players in double figures in scoring, with guard Jerryd Bayless (18.8 ppg), forward Chase Budinger (15.9) and forward Jordan Hill (13.4).

    Budinger, who grew up in the San Diego area and was heavily recruited by Fisher, scored a season-low five points in 31 minutes against SDSU on the road last season.

    Still, Arizona was able to hold its opponent to a 32.8 shooting percentage in a 69-48 win.

    “”Hopefully, unlike last year, we’ll be able to make a shot or two to stay in the game,”” Fisher said.

    Budinger has experienced turbulence at the same time this year, struggling offensively in two of the last three games.

    But the performance by Budinger a year ago and his recent struggles haven’t changed Fisher’s opinion about him.

    “”I think this year they’ve got guys that everybody knows the No. 1A option and the No. 1B option,”” Fisher said. “”… I think everybody knows Budinger is the No. 1 option. And Bayless ain’t far behind him and Hill ain’t far behind him.””

    Hill, who averages a team-high 7.3 rebounds per game, led Arizona to its 52-49 win over Nevada-Las Vegas on Wednesday with 16 points and a career-high 19 boards. He had a similar performance against Illinois on Dec. 8., scoring a career-high 23 and pulling down 14 rebounds.

    But O’Neill said he anticipates that Hill will become even better as time goes on.

    “”He’s still a learning player,”” O’Neill said. “”…He still doesn’t make all the best decisions in the post. He’s still got to learn to recognize defenses. His conditioning’s getting better so he’s able to play longer times.””

    O’Neill will rely heavily on his top three scorers, along with starting guard Jawann McClellan, to get the job done with a high level of tenacity because anyone can beat anyone, he said.

    “”I think you need to have a sense of urgency any time you play basketball,”” O’Neill said, “”whether it be practice, shoot-arounds, games. If you don’t, you end up wasting your time.””

    Top signee Jennings to visit McKale Saturday

    UA signee Brandon Jennings, the No. 1 prospect in the class of 2008 according to, will get a taste of what it’s like to play a game in McKale Center before he puts on an Arizona jersey next season.

    His high school team, Oak Hill (Va.), will face James B. Dudley (N.C.) in the Showdown on Arizona’s home court Saturday at 5 p.m.

    “”I’m extremely excited to be able to play at McKale Center before my freshman season at Arizona,”” Jennings told “”I’m going to put on a show for all of the Arizona fans and show them what they have to look forward to for next year. This is a great opportunity for myself and Oak Hill Academy.””

    Oak Hill was the No. 1 team in the nation in USA Today‘s poll before losing 68-62 to St. Benedict’s (N.J.), the new No. 1 team, in a game Jennings scored a season-low 21 points and 73-72 to Benedictine (Va.) despite 40 from Jennings last week.

    Oak Hill rebounded with a 78-77 overtime win at No. 2 Duncanville (Texas) Wendesday behind Jennings’s 34 points.

    It won’t be the first game Jennings has ever played on Lute and Bobbi Olson Court, though.

    He was the leading scorer in the second annual Arizona Cactus Classic AAU tournament May 18-20, averaging 28.4 points and two assists, along with two double-doubles over eight games, despite his team, the Belmont Shore, losing 102-96 to the New York Gauchos in the championship game of the tournament.

    “”If he were on the autobahn in Germany, he would be the fastest guy,”” Dave Telep, the national recruiting director for, told the Wildcat in May. “”He wants to go as fast as he possibly can, push the tempo, be creative, get in the paint and make plays. He wants to do things with a lot of speed and a lot of pace.””

    Tucson Salpointe, the state’s No. 1 team according to the Arizona Republic‘s rankings and Phoenix Desert Vista conclude the Showdown at 7 p.m.

    Tickets are $5, cash only.

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