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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Welcome home Chase

    Welcome home Chase

    Chase Budinger’s San Diego-based trainer can feel the anticipation. Trent Suzuki hears it from his buddies and from former Wildcats in the area like Steve Kerr.

    “”The whole area is buzzing,”” Suzuki said. “”It’s pretty exciting right now.””

    Budinger is happy to be going home. He grew up in Encinitas, Calif., a couple of dozen miles away from San Diego State. He played in Cox Arena, winning co-MVP honors of the McDonald’s All-American game and finishing second in the dunk contest after his senior season. His curly blond locks and his laid-back persona all but put the San Diego label on his forehead.

    But Budinger doesn’t get over dramatic. If he’s brimming with excitement on the inside, he doesn’t show it. Playing as a freshman in Madison Square Garden, Budinger delighted the crowd with a dazzling alley-oop dunk and 17 points, but after the game, the atmosphere brought out only a reserved smile.

    Who: No. 14 Arizona at San Diego State
    Where: Cox Arena
    When: 7:30 p.m.
    TV: Cox Channel 22 or Comcast Channel 17 (not FSNA)

    “”I don’t think I’ve ever seen Chase get excited about anything,”” UA head coach Lute Olson said.

    Suzuki said Budinger is glad to be back home, but the hometown kid will be focused on business first.

    “”He’s excited, but he’s not to the point where it’s going to screw him up because he’s too hyped up,”” Suzuki said. “”He’s happy to be home because he gets to be around his family and stuff and just kind of relax a little bit. He’s got to take care of business first (Saturday), and then he can relax all day Sunday.””

    So far this year, Budinger has done little relaxing. The 6-foot-7 forward has gone to work against opponents, leading No. 14 Arizona (6-1) in scoring with 19.4 points per game entering Saturday’s game at San Diego State (8-1). He’s also second on the team in rebounding at 6.9 boards per game and plays the most minutes (33.6).

    Against Illinois Dec. 2, Budinger scored 22 points while helping Arizona rally back from a 16-point deficit.

    Suzuki isn’t surprised by Budinger’s offensive prowess. He has shown those skills for a long time. Defensively though, Suzuki has seen his pupil become a changed man.

    “”Offensively I knew he wouldn’t have much of a transition because he’s pretty gifted in that area,”” Suzuki said, “”but what I’ve seen is a big change in his defensive intensity and the way he’s gone about that side of the ball.

    “”He never really had to play defense until now, so he’s really been trying to pay attention to that, and it’s been hard on him because he’s really concentrated on the defensive end, and it’s caused him to be a lot more tired than he normally is.””

    Against the Aztecs, a team that averages 79.3 points per game and has sat on the edge of the top 25 all season, the Wildcats will have no room to be tired tonight.

    The Aztecs, who have already beaten California this year, are coming off their first defeat of the season, an 84-73 loss at Western Michigan.

    Senior guard Brandon Heath leads the team in scoring at 20.0 points per game, and Florida transfer Mohamed Abukar averages 17.1 to go along with 6.3 rebounds per game.

    “”They’re both guys who are going to have an opportunity to play in the NBA or at least play professional somewhere,”” UA assistant coach Josh Pastner said. “”They’re both scorers.

    Heath, who played at the same high school as former UA guard Hassan Adams (Westchester High School, Los Angeles), is a prolific 3-point shooter (39.1 percent) who has averaged no less than 13.8 points per game in any of his four seasons at San Diego State.

    “”Heath is as good of a guard as we’ll face all year long,”” Pastner said.

    The Aztecs also have Louisville transfer Lorenzo Wade and 6-foot-10 forward Jerome Habel averaging double figures in points.

    “”They’re good enough to be able to compete in the Pac-10,”” Pastner said. “”They’ve got Pac-10 talent. (San Diego State’s) top seven guys are all good enough to have played in the Pac-10. They just didn’t for whatever reason.””

    After facing Illinois and Louisville, San Diego State is a lower-level program on the national scale, but the Aztecs’ matchup with Arizona is brimming with big-game credentials.

    “”It’s definitely the most underrated game of the weekend without question,”” Suzuki said. “”No one is giving this game the love that it needs, but it’s probably going to be the best game of the weekend. It’s going to be very exciting, very up-tempo. I think people are going to be happy that they’re there.””

    Suzuki expects that there will be those who don’t cheer Budinger at Cox Arena, for obvious reasons.

    “”There are going to be people who are rooting against him and especially San Diego State fans because he did spurn the local schools to go to Arizona,”” Suzuki said.

    But the atmosphere, as usual likely will have no effect.

    “”He’ll go about his business as usual,”” Suzuki said. “”The pressure stuff doesn’t really get to him. He’s always even-keeled, and this is no different.””

    For San Diego State, the environment will be different. With a packed house expected, the locals will probably welcome Budinger home with a smattering of cheers and boos.

    But Budinger won’t fidget. He’s seen it before.

    “”Chase is the same ol’, same ol’, doesn’t get too high with the highs, doesn’t get too low with the lows,”” Pastner said.

    And 1

    Center Kirk Walters, who has played just two minutes this year after suffering from Mononucleosis and the aftereffects of a concussion, practiced Thursday and Friday and is medically cleared to play Saturday, according to Pastner.

    Guard J.P. Prince did not practice on Friday and will not be available Saturday, Pastner said.

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