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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Cats caught in muddy waters

    Arizona forwards Marcus Williams (3) and Ivan Radenovic (55) try to defend UCLA guard Josh Shipp during the second half of No. 11 Arizonas 73-69 loss at No. 3 UCLA Saturday at Pauley Pavilion. Williams and Radenovic combined to play all but one minute in part due to the Wildcats lack of depth with forward Bret Brielmaier injured.
    Arizona forwards Marcus Williams (3) and Ivan Radenovic (55) try to defend UCLA guard Josh Shipp during the second half of No. 11 Arizona’s 73-69 loss at No. 3 UCLA Saturday at Pauley Pavilion. Williams and Radenovic combined to play all but one minute in part due to the Wildcats’ lack of depth with forward Bret Brielmaier injured.

    LOS ANGELES – What looked like a smooth ride to the Final Four in Atlanta has stopped faster than traffic during rush hour in Los Angeles, the site of Arizona’s lowest point in more than 20 years.

    And after what should be an easy win Wednesday against ASU – and if it isn’t against a team winless in the Pacific 10 Conference, then something’s gone seriously wrong – the Wildcats continue a brutal schedule with home dates with No. 3 North Carolina and the Washington schools.

    The Wildcats (4-4 conference) wake up this morning to find themselves in seventh place in the Pac-10. If the season ended today, they would be looking at the same fate they have this week, a Wednesday game against the last-place Sun Devils, in essence a play-in game for the conference tournament.

    After losing four of five games, an unthinkable act considering Arizona started the conference season ranked as high as No. 7 with one of the toughest schedules in the nation, the season has taken a turn for the worst largely because of the team’s shooting percentage.

    Following the first three conference games, in which the Wildcats shot over 60 percent, they have failed to hit 50 percent in their last five games and didn’t even get to the 40-percent mark in three of their recent losses.

    Over that stretch, the Wildcats have averaged 75.0 points per game after starting the year with an 87.5 average.

    “”Obviously, the defenses are better in this league than (during) nonconference (play), but we’re hitting them in practice situations, so I think they’re just thinking too much right now,”” said UA head coach Lute Olson.

    Two main culprits of the slump have been wings Chase Budinger and Jawann McClellan, two integral parts of Arizona’s perimeter attack.

    McClellan hasn’t hit a 3 since having the game of his life Jan. 4 against Washington, when he tied his career high with 22 points and hit on six of nine 3-pointers, a few of which were shot well beyond the line.

    Since then he’s averaging 7.2 points on 31.7 percent shooting (13-of-41 overall) and has missed all 15 of his 3-point attempts after starting the year hitting 50 percent on 3s and 48.1 percent from the field .

    The drought continued against UCLA, as McClellan scored seven points on 2-of-9 shooting and missed two 3s.

    “”I thought Jawann played hard (Saturday), (but) missed some easy shots that he’s normally going to make,”” Olson said.

    After being among the conference’s leaders averaging 17.1 points over his first 13 games, the super-freshman Budinger has averaged just 10.2 in the past five.

    He was right there Saturday, with 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting.

    It could be Budinger is a freshman adjusting to the grinds of a long college season against tough competition, or it could be that shots were just rimming out.

    “”Chase was 0-for-4 (on 3s), but every one of them I’d tell him to take every time,”” Olson said.

    Last year’s shooting percentage of 44.6 percent was the program’s lowest since Olson came to Tucson after the 1982-83 season, and its 31.9 3-point percentage was the lowest since the shot was added in.

    It’s been even worse over this stretch, with the squad shooting 42.7 percent from the field and 22.6 percent from long range.

    But even so, the strong chemistry that players have discussed ad nauseam this year is still there, according to Olson and senior forward Ivan Radenovic, making it different from last year’s bickering squad.

    “”Of course it is,”” Radenovic said. “”We talked to each other, tried to encourage each other. I think we had more team chemistry (Saturday) than the past two games, but I think that this kind of loss, it’s going to bring it together.””

    Another underrated aspect of the skid has been the knee injury of forward Bret Brielmaier, who had been Arizona’s best post player off the bench. Brielmaier suffered the injury in a non-contact situation during the shoot-around before the Washington game, and after beating the Huskies, the Wildcats haven’t been the same since.

    Although the walk-on Brielmaier was averaging a mere 1.5 points and 2.2 rebounds, he helps the offense by setting tough screens and always energizes Arizona’s lineup.

    His absence puts more pressure on freshman forward Jordan Hill, who hasn’t been up to the pressure of road Pac-10 basketball.

    Saturday against the Bruins, Hill played two minutes and picked up two fouls, causing Radenovic to immediately re-enter the contest. Radenovic (39 minutes) and forward Marcus Williams (40) played all but one minute.

    Thursday against USC, Hill turned the ball over three times and picked up two fouls in four first-half minutes, causing Radenovic and Williams to play all but three minutes of that game. The duo also played all but two minutes against then-No. 15 Oregon Jan. 14.

    “”We’ll be happy to get Bret back in another week or so,”” Olson said. “”It’ll make a huge difference to have a solid guy, (an) experienced guy coming off the bench for us.””

    After getting beaten down by the tougher, deeper Los Angeles teams – who both came back from early deficits, controlled the pace and held off an Arizona rally in the end – now the Wildcats hope some home cooking and friendly rims can cure some of their ills.

    That upcoming stretch should go a long way in determining if the Wildcats’ past five games were just a bump in the road playing in a tough conference, or if the team’s impressive play at the beginning – Arizona won 12 straight contests from Nov. 15 to Jan. 4 – was the aberration for a squad that resembles last year’s troubled team.

    “”We get four games at home now to get some momentum going, and the key thing for us is we just need to keep getting better every game,”” Olson said. “”We’re going to be OK.””

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