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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Cardiac Cats can’t help but provide the suspense

    Roman Veytsmansports editor
    Roman Veytsman
    sports editor

    STANFORD, Calif. – For the last two years, Arizona’s men’s basketball team has been about as predictable as Arizona’s lottery.

    The cardiac Cats are likely responsible for the extra alcoholic beverages consumed at the bar and the additional points on the already high blood pressure. They’re liable to give any viewer a heart attack on a given play, whether it’s the high-wire antics of a Chase Budinger alley-oop or the lowlight duck-for-cover passes that have become all too common this year.

    Arizona has made people’s stomachs fill with butterflies, churn and feel better again, over and over.

    The same team that last year battled back from 15 points down in the second half to force overtime against Michigan State in Hawaii and beat Washington in Seattle was upset by Houston and then almost upset No. 1 seed Villanova in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Philadelphia.

    In the huddle before overtime Saturday against Stanford, guard Mustafa Shakur didn’t let the inconsistencies of the team creep into his mind.

    “”I never think I’m going to lose no matter what,”” he said, recalling the Illinois game Dec. 2 when Arizona trailed by 16.

    “”If we had (losing) on our mind, we would have lost by 40 (against the Illini), but we came back to win the game.””

    This year’s squad went from winning 12 straight to losing three straight, from an Ivan Radenovic jumper to beat Oregon to a Marcus Williams foul in an almost-loss to ASU. They went from blowing a lead in the waning moments at home against Oregon to overcoming a deficit in a win at Oregon.

    Arizona went from scoring more than 80 points in 10 of its first 13 games to scoring 80 or fewer in 14 of its next 16.

    Despite having a senior point guard in Shakur, the Wildcats have had 38 more turnovers than their opponents this year. Yet they only had 13 turnovers against a pressing Memphis team and had 18 miscues against NAU. They lead the Pacific 10 Conference in assists but are eighth in turnover margin.

    UA head coach Lute Olson isn’t easy to predict either.

    Olson made two out-of-character moves against Stanford. He summoned three players who have combined to play 88 minutes in Pac-10 play. Then he put Jordan Hill, who already had two fouls, back in the game. While the first move provided a boost, Hill quickly picked up his third foul and was relegated back to the bench.

    Guard Nic Wise, meanwhile, doubled the amount of field goals he’s made in the entire conference season.

    “”I told him after the Cal game that we were ‘gonna ‘play him, we were ‘gonna’ play him early and we really needed him to contribute,”” Olson said. “”Nic did a good job.””

    Forward Fendi Onobun has collected 17 DNP-CDs (did not play-coach’s decision) this year, yet on back-to-back possessions, he drained a mid-range jump shot and took the ball strong to the basket, drawing a foul.

    “”We got a really strong contribution with a lot of minutes, and they took care of the ball, and they played hard defensively, so I’m happy about that,”” Olson said.

    Radenovic, a forward, hasn’t had problems getting playing time, but in games against UCLA Feb. 17 and ASU Feb. 25, he scored four points each time. Then he scored a career-high 37 against Stanford.

    “”I’m happy to see that he’s back on track with these last two games,”” Shakur said.

    After attempting 13 free throws in the first half to Stanford’s five, Arizona didn’t draw a foul until Stanford was already in the bonus in the second half.

    Shakur didn’t record a shot attempt in the first half, yet Arizona was up by 19.

    “”The first half was probably the best basketball we played during the whole year,”” Radenovic said. “”You could see a totally different team compared to the other games.””

    Shakur didn’t make a shot until 59 seconds remained in the second half. In overtime he drained one of those contested jump shots about which everyone in the building screams “”Nooo”” until it goes and then afterward says, “”Nice shot.””

    Olson, 72, has spent 49 years as a head coach. After the ASU game, he said he didn’t have a “”handle”” on the team but enjoys being around this particular group.

    “”I love this team because they’re such great guys,”” Olson said. “”They have such great team chemistry. Every day in practice it’s fun. Has it been frustrating at times? Yeah. So have the last 50 years; teams have been frustrating to me.””

    Maybe there’s something about this team’s character that it can’t help but frustrate. It can’t help but dangle on the edge.

    “”I would have rather just won the blowout, but if it was just close the whole game, it would be pretty fun,”” Shakur said. “”But it still was pretty fun, I can’t lie.””

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