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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Wildcats face first ranked team of season

    Arizona forward Marcus Williams dunks in the first half of Sundays 87-62 win over Houston. Williams posted his second double-double in a row, scoring 15 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.
    Arizona forward Marcus Williams dunks in the first half of Sunday’s 87-62 win over Houston. Williams posted his second double-double in a row, scoring 15 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.

    Arizona’s nonconference schedule has included trips to Virginia and San Diego State, a journey to Madison Square Garden for a date with Louisville and a short drive to Phoenix for a square down with Illinois.

    When No. 18 Memphis (8-2) steps onto the McKale Center floor at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday for the Fiesta Bowl Classic, however, No. 9 Arizona (8-1) will face its toughest challenge of the season thus far in its first nationally-televised FSN contest of the year.

    “”This is probably the biggest game for us,”” said forward Chase Budinger.

    With the Pacific 10 Conference season approaching Dec. 28, the Wildcats have had little room to breathe. But as the defense has improved, so has Arizona’s tournament resumé.

    Convincing wins over San Diego State and Houston in its last two games and hard-fought victories over Illinois and Louisville in the previous two have Arizona ranked as high as it has been since the second Associated Press poll of last season.

    “”These last five games arguably can set us up for a No. 1 seed in the tournament,”” forward Marcus Williams said. “”We look at it, just take one game at a time, but (with the) strength of schedule it puts us in a position to accomplish that.””

    For Memphis, who’s built its resumé with wins over Kentucky and Oklahoma, the trip to Tucson can further help its case, especially because the Tigers play in a relatively weak Conference USA.

    “”This is an important game, but not a big game,”” Memphis head coach John Calipari said. “”Now if we win it’s a huge game. It’s an important game based on how we play and the level of opponent.””

    The Wildcats’ recent opponents may have helped prepare Arizona for what it’s likely to face in a “”Run ‘N Gun”” Memphis team that averages 82.2 points per game, good for No. 23 in the nation. Houston, No. 5 in the nation, and San Diego State, No. 40 in points per game, were held to an average of over 30 points under their season averages. Moreover, the Houston game in which the officials let both teams get away with physical play under the basket, may have reduced the impact of adjusting to Memphis’ physical wings.

    “”We just have to be conscious of boxing out and being tough down there and keeping that aggressive attitude that we’ve had so far during this year, battling down low,”” Williams said.

    No one has been more of a warrior than Williams recently. After a lackluster performance against Illinois, Williams came back to average 14 rebounds in his last two games to go along with 18 points. In every game that Williams has played over 20 minutes this season, aside from the Illinois game, he has grabbed at least seven rebounds and is second on the team in rebounding, trailing forward Ivan Radenovic by 0.1.

    “”It’s more about desire, getting in there and banging,”” Williams said. “”You’re getting hit with some elbows, you have to throw some elbows to get those grimy rebounds. It’s something (that goes) with added toughness.””

    Against Houston, the sophomore from Seattle and Budinger, the freshman from Encinitas, Calif., meshed their styles together, both scoring in double digits for the first time in three games. Against Memphis, rebounding may be a key factor, one that Budinger said Olson continues to reiterate during practice.

    “”What we’ve been hearing it’s going be the same type (of style) as Houston but the guys are going to be 6-7, 6-8 type of players,”” Budinger said. “”It’s going to be a very physical game.””

    The versatility of Budinger and Williams caught the eye of Calipari, who said he watched half of Arizona’s game against San Diego State. The sly and media savvy Calipari may have been in a hyperbolic mood, but he couldn’t get past describing Arizona’s squad without gasping.

    “”Radenovic, wow,”” Calipari said. “”Williams, whew. You go right up and down the lineup. These guys are talented, they’re playing unselfishly, and then they have a great coach.””

    “”I watched this Arizona team, wow,”” he added. “”Budinger, who is this kid? What is this guy? And then (guard Jawann) McClellan is my kind of guy. McClellan is the guy that played for me at Massachusetts and just did everything he had to do, came up with every ball. They’re good. These other guys, I’m like holy cow.””

    Though Memphis has scored over 80 points against both Kentucky and Oklahoma, Budinger thinks their fast-paced style will play right into Arizona’s hands.

    “”When teams like to run, it fits into our game plan,”” he said. “”That’s exactly what we want to do is get out there and run. I think we’re the best team that does that, and I don’t think teams can keep up with us.

    “”We’re such a good-conditioned team that teams will start getting tired at the end of games, and I don’t think that happens with us.””

    And 1:

    Guard Mustafa Shakur, who was pulled down from behind in the Houston game with a little over four minutes left in an already-decided game, responded to a similar foul in the New York Knicks/Denver Nuggets game that resulted in a brawl. Shakur said he had no problem restraining himself.

    “”It’s just one of those things, unfortunate that it got out of hand,”” he said. “”I don’t think any of those guys (like) Carmelo (Anthony) has that type of attitude where he wants to go and fight every night. It was just an unfortunate thing. Me, I want to play the next game. I can’t afford to miss a game, my teammates need me out there.””… Center Kirk Walters will not play Wednesday and it is unclear if guard J.P. Prince, a Memphis native, will be available, according to assistant coach Josh Pastner. Pastner referred the decision on Prince to UA head coach Lute Olson, who was not available for comment Tuesday. … The Wildcats are 41-1 all-time in Fiesta Bowl Classic games although the Memphis contest marks the first time the event will be a one-game showcase as opposed to a four-team tournament.

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