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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “O’Neill hears it from fans, considers zone”

    Arizona forward Chase Budinger shoots over a falling Jeff Pendergraph in ASUs 59-54 win over the Wildcats in McKale Center on Sunday. Budinger scored four points, tying a career-low, in the game and shot just 1-for-12 from the field.
    Arizona forward Chase Budinger shoots over a falling Jeff Pendergraph in ASU’s 59-54 win over the Wildcats in McKale Center on Sunday. Budinger scored four points, tying a career-low, in the game and shot just 1-for-12 from the field.

    Hoops Notes

    If the Arizona men’s basketball team were at full strength, it would not play a possession of zone defense all year.

    But with two of the team’s top three defenders – guard Nic Wise and forward Bret Brielmaier – injured, which UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill called a “”crushing blow,”” O’Neill said the team may try “”some gimmick stuff.””

    O’Neill, who strongly believes man-to-man is the best defense for a team in the long run, cannot escape hearing fans shouting out their ideas for the team to run a zone, from his e-mail box to newspaper message boards and even in public.

    “”I have people yelling it to me from the streets as I’m driving in at 5 in the morning, ‘What the hell is wrong with you O’Neill? Play zone,’ “” he said. “”I’m not being stubborn, I’m not out to say to everybody, ‘Kiss my grits, I’m not playing any zone.’ That’s not my intention.””

    Instead O’Neill sees a team that had been playing some “”pretty good”” man defense before the last two games, when his squad played “”awful.””

    The team practices its zone a little bit each week, for game planning against the other team if nothing else, and O’Neill said the team has a 2-3 zone that “”we could use and we may use,”” although forward Chase Budinger and center Kirk Walters said they don’t see that happening.

    O’Neill does not think the fans clamoring for him to play zone would like the system Arizona would play, because if a team does not play man-to-man well and gives in to “”less accountability”” then it won’t play a very good zone either, he said.

    The coach said he gets many more e-mails when his team loses than when it wins, but that he appreciates the fact that UA fans care so much because of the winning tradition they’re used to, something that makes them particularly angered after getting swept by typical whipping boy ASU.

    “”It’s a lot better than having fans that don’t care,”” O’Neill said.

    As Budinger goes, the Wildcats go

    Budinger averaged 24.3 points per game on 52.5 percent shooting while hitting 16 3-pointers during Arizona’s recent four-game winning streak.

    But he has suddenly gone ice cold in the two games following that, both UA losses, averaging 6.5 points on 20.1 percent shooting while hitting a single long ball.

    “”It kind of came out of nowhere,”” Budinger said of his slump. “”During the whole week of practice I was shooting the ball real well, I felt very confident in myself, just everything was going right, and then that (ASU) game came up, and I couldn’t find the rim.””

    Although Budinger made just one of his 12 shots Sunday against the Sun Devils, O’Neill felt he passed up about five or six good looks that could have ended his slump.

    So his advice is the same thing he always says to Budinger when he slumps: “”Just keep shooting. If you get an open look, shoot it.””

    “”What he needs to do is become confident in his abilities because he has (a) great skill set,”” O’Neill said. “”And he needs to get back into attack mode and doing the things that put him in position to have great games for us.””

    When his coach tells him something like that, Budinger said it gives him a lot of confidence, something very important to the sophomore, as he said he felt very confident while scoring 29 points Jan. 31 at USC in the game before his slump started.

    “”Confidence is a huge thing for me,”” Budinger said. “”I do get down on myself during games, I do get mentally fatigued, and I really get on myself, that’s the biggest thing, during games. I’ve really got to focus on just playing the game and not worry about missing shots, and if I learn to do that I’ll become a better player.””

    Johnson ready for bigger role

    Forward Zane Johnson still has not once played the 10-12 minutes per game he said O’Neill promised him when he took off his redshirt, even with guard Nic Wise injured during his seven-minute outing Sunday, but the minutes boost could be coming any game now.

    Johnson said he just hopes to play solid defense and knock down shots when he gets on the court, which O’Neill said would happen for some time this weekend.

    “”I feel a lot more comfortable after those first two or three games when I was out there,”” Johnson said. “”Everything was just going so fast, and now it’s kind of slowed down.””

    Stay out of his way

    Johnson knows UA guard Jerryd Bayless’ competitive streak better than anyone, with the freshmen being good friends and roommates who have played with each other since they were freshmen in high school.

    So Johnson knows to stay away from Bayless for at least a day after a loss.

    “”He just kind of goes into like, I wouldn’t say like depression, but he kind of just doesn’t talk to anybody,”” Johnson said. “”And that’s what winners do, and that’s what he does, so that’s how he is.””

    Playing fake hard

    O’Neill described his team’s effort in Sunday’s 59-54 loss to ASU as playing “”a fake hard.””

    The coach clarified that term to mean a team that plays hard and with effort but does not execute appropriately.

    “”When you make seven mistakes in the last 10 minutes of the game on defensive assignments that tells me we’ve got a fake hard going on,”” O’Neill said. “”We’re going through the motions of playing hard but not executing, and to me that’s something we need to get away from.””

    Injury update

    Forward Jamelle Horne (knee) is expected to be ready to play this week. O’Neill said he felt Horne was not an option against ASU because he did not feel 100 percent healthy, which the coach hopes will be the case by tipoff Thursday.

    Forward Fendi Onobun broke a finger, which the coach said he thinks happened against the Sun Devils, but O’Neill also expects him to play this weekend.

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