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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Living on the bubble

    Arizona forward Jordan Hill pulls down a rebound in the Wildcats 76-63 win over Oregon State on Jan. 3 in McKale Center. The Beavers have lost their last 18 games and could become the first winless team in Pac-10 history with two losses this weekend.
    Arizona forward Jordan Hill pulls down a rebound in the Wildcats’ 76-63 win over Oregon State on Jan. 3 in McKale Center. The Beavers have lost their last 18 games and could become the first winless team in Pac-10 history with two losses this weekend.

    Arizona at Oregon State

    With the nation’s No. 1 strength of schedule and a Ratings Percentage Index rated No. 25, most NCAA Tournament predictions project the Arizona men’s basketball team to earn a spot in the Big Dance.

    “”Then we should stop right now,”” UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill said when informed of this.

    But it’s not so simple for the Wildcats (17-12, 7-9 Pacific 10 Conference), who play tonight at 7 against Oregon State (6-22, 0-16) to start a weekend trip to the Oregon schools that could punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament – or make things very difficult for them.

    “”We can’t worry about that stuff,”” said UA guard Jawann McClellan. “”We just have to go out and try to win ballgames and let everything take care of itself.””

    That’s the company line that many Wildcats and O’Neill repeated, but McClellan admitted it’s tough not to think about Arizona’s bubble status, especially in his senior season.

    He’s aware the Wildcats have reached 23 straight NCAA Tournaments and won at least 20 games 20 years in a row, having repeatedly talked about not wanting to play for the team that breaks that run.

    Although O’Neill knows his players think about such things, he does not want them to feel the pressure of the program’s successful past, so he does not plan on addressing the streak or what it means for the school.

    “”Every streak ends at some point,”” O’Neill said. “”We certainly don’t want to be the team that ends the streak. No team does. When I was younger I used to worry about all these scenarios, (but) I’m not going to control any of them anyways.

    “”I guarantee you I want to make the NCAA Tournament more than everyone that’s breathing in the Western Hemisphere – guaranteed, more than anyone – but I’m not going to be able to control it,”” O’Neill added.

    Although the weight of expectations has made Arizona’s season thus far look like a disappointment – after all, the Wildcats have already lost two more Pac-10 games than they had during any of their previous 23 tourney appearances and sit in an unusual bubble situation – O’Neill said he does not feel that way.

    Due to the circumstances and the fact Arizona doesn’t have much depth, O’Neill said he didn’t know if the team would be very good at the start of the season. He expected the Wildcats to win less than 23 games, a mark reached many times in the past, which makes the team’s record not look so bad considering its injuries and the coaching confusion at the beginning of the year.

    “”The honest fact of it is everybody around here is so accustomed to just going to the NCAA Tournament that’s it’s just expected,”” O’Neill said. “”When we started this year I know several people didn’t think we had a chance to go to the NCAA Tournamentÿ- or it would be very, very difficult – and it has been difficult to get to this point, but it’s not like we don’t have a chance to go. We control our own destiny.””

    The Wildcats could be boosted by the expected returns of guard Nic Wise and forward Bret Brielmaier who practiced full contact Tuesday for the first time since being injured.

    Arizona went 2-5 without the duo as an already thin UA team had to go deeper into its bench.

    Although neither player has been officially cleared for the game, in what will likely be a game-time decision, the sense around the team was that both would play this weekend.

    “”Hopefully Nic and Bret going back are really going to help us, and I think everybody’s excited that they’re coming back,”” said UA forward Chase Budinger. “”We’re going to have a full team again.””

    Complacency could set in for Arizona under normal circumstances in a game that looks like a guaranteed win on paper, especially when playing a team that has lost 18 straight as OSU has.

    But with Arizona’s bubble possibly bursting with a costly loss to a Beaver squad ranked No. 259 in the RPI, the Wildcats know they have to win and let Bracketology work itself out.

    “”We’ve just been telling each other right now that this is the biggest weekend for us this season, and we’ve just got to be mentally ready for it,”” Budinger said. “”That’s all we’re focusing on.””

    Tale of the tape: Arizona at Oregon State


    The Wildcats struggled with the Beavers before pulling away earlier in the year in McKale Center. But that was without Jerryd Bayless, and if you haven’t noticed he makes a little bit of a difference.
    Advantage: Arizona


    When your leading scorer and rebounder, forward Marcel Jones, averages 10.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, you know you have issues.
    Advantage: Arizona


    The Beavers are sure to be motivated trying to snap their 18-game losing streak to avoid becoming the first Pac-10 team ever to go 0-18 in league play. But the Wildcats need a win to keep their 23-year NCAA Tournament and 20-year 20-game win streaks alive, and they will get a boost by the expected returns of Nic Wise and Bret Brielmaier.
    Advantage: Arizona


    In a wildly unpredictable Pac-10 season, the one constant has remained: everybody beating up on Oregon State. Arizona knows the dire predicament a loss could leave it in and won’t let that happen.
    Arizona 78, Oregon State 55

    -compiled by Michael Schwartz

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