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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Defensive collapse prompts Wildcats to make lineup changes

    Senior forward Ivan Radenovic, left, defends Victorias Mitch Gudgeon during Arizonas exhibition game victory over Victoria Nov. 8. The Wildcats didnt play much defense in the second half of their game against Virginia, but Radenovic was a bright spot with his 24 points and eight rebounds.
    Senior forward Ivan Radenovic, left, defends Victoria’s Mitch Gudgeon during Arizona’s exhibition game victory over Victoria Nov. 8. The Wildcats didn’t play much defense in the second half of their game against Virginia, but Radenovic was a bright spot with his 24 points and eight rebounds.

    Following a loss at Virginia where Arizona brought back its running game shoes but put away its defensive lock, the No. 15 Wildcats play their first home game of the season against NAU tonight at 7:30 in McKale Center.

    Arizona (0-1), who ranked first in the nation in scoring in 2002-03 and 2003-04, poured in 90 points against Virginia but gave up 93, a figure Wildcat opponents have surpassed just once in the last two seasons.

    “”You score 90 points, nine times out of 10 you’re going to win,”” UA assistant coach Josh Pastner said. “”But if you can’t defend anyone, that’s a problem.””

    The poor defensive effort has caused a swift change in the starting lineup by UA head coach Lute Olson, who declined to discuss who would start.

    “”We just need some people to step up, and the people who step up are going to get the playing time,”” Olson said.

    Seven players played double-digit minutes against Virginia, but senior center Kirk Walters, who played just two minutes and air-balled his only shot, was not one of them.

    Olson said Walters, who spent time Monday on the Stairmaster continuing his conditioning work after sitting out more than a month with a concussion, has “”gotta get ready.””

    “”We need some veteran play there,”” Olson said.

    “”He needs more time, and we gotta get him time now on the …homestand,”” he added.

    In the past, the Wildcats have bounced back from losses with a vengeance, losing back-to-back games only 13 times since 1997-98, but last year’s Arizona squad lost back-to-backs three times, including a three-game losing streak.

    Olson indicated that after the Virginia loss, the visitors’ locker room at John Paul Jones Arena was not an enjoyable place to be.

    “”I think they’re competitors, and they’ll respond like competitors,”” Olson said of the players, who were unavailable to the media yesterday. “”They were not happy in the locker room afterward with how they played.””

    Although Arizona has four straight home games on the horizon, all against so-called mid-major teams, the road is far from smooth. NAU (1-1) comes off a win against ASU Monday, New Mexico State received a vote in the USA Today/coaches’ poll, Samford was picked to win the Ohio Valley Conference and UNLV added former ASU guard Kevin Kruger to a competitive Mountain West Conference team coached by his dad, Lon Kruger.

    If Arizona is to get through unscathed, the defense, which Olson called the team’s “”Achilles’ heel right now,”” must be shored up.

    “”Every guy on the court has to be playing really hard, and we did not,”” Olson said of the team’s first game. “”Certainly we didn’t get that. Even in the first half, where it looked like we held them down pretty well, they missed a lot of easy shots. In the first half, we gave them a lot of opportunities. In the second half, their goal was obviously to penetrate on us and draw fouls. They were the aggressor. There’s no question.””

    Offensively, Arizona got a big contribution from senior forward Ivan Radenovic, who led the team in points with 24 and tied for the lead in rebounds with eight. Radenovic only missed one field goal attempt in eight tries and got to the free-throw line 10 times, but Olson was most happy to see Radenovic be “”communicative”” in the huddle.

    “”I was happy to see him step up with that kind of forcefulness, not only how he played and how he competed, but just his presence on the court,”” Olson said. “”I was very pleased with it.””

    Olson was not pleased with Arizona’s halt to fast-breaking in the second half though, as the Wildcats stopped getting easy baskets in transition.

    “”For some unknown reason, we stopped really pushing the ball hard at them,”” Olson said.

    For Arizona’s three freshmen, all of whom saw significant playing time against Virginia, the night had its ups and downs. Forward Chase Budinger scored 15 points in the first half and two in the second half, guard Nic Wise had five points in 15 minutes but shot 1-for-5 on 3-pointers and committed four fouls, and forward Jordan Hill played eight minutes and was called for three fouls without recording a rebound.

    “”Nic needs to be an aggressive guard, and he wasn’t,”” Olson said. “”He was hanging around the 3-point line, and sometimes he would shoot the ball out there, thinking that’s all he needs to do. He’s a good penetrator, and he sees the floor well, and he needs to do what he can do well.””

    Although all three were highly touted high school players, the environment in Virginia for opening night – a game that featured almost 15 minutes of pre-game introductions for the Cavaliers – was something they had likely not seen before.

    “”It was a tough environment for anyone to play,”” Olson said.

    Today, the environment shifts back to McKale Center until a Dec. 2 game against Illinois in Phoenix.

    “”We need to learn from what we did and what we didn’t do and try to work on getting those things corrected,”” Olson said. “”But I think we can do that, and it’s good that we’re going to be in a situation where we’re going to be at home.””

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