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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Wins prevent O’Neill from becoming a grinch

    The No. 17 Arizona men’s basketball team better have enjoyed a very merry Christmas.

    Because its first practice back Wednesday afternoon will be anything but merry.

    In fact, if interim head coach Kevin O’Neill had made the schedule instead of head coach Lute Olson, who’s on a leave of absence for the season, Sunday to Tuesday’s three-day break would not have even been part of the plan in the first place.

    “”Seriously,”” said O’Neill, who’s worried some of his team’s momentum built during its six-game win streak will be lost. “”I know it kind of sounds like ‘Bah, humbug’ and stuff like that, but I think you can really get a lot done. In the three days they’re going to be home we’re going to get nothing done.

    “”It costs the same for their parents to come here and spend time with them. Seriously. These guys deserve some time off, but I’d rather see us keep practicing and getting better.””

    Entering the final three games before break, O’Neill told his squad that he would cancel Christmas break if they did not play well.

    And he meant it, going so far as to say he would have been “”more than willing”” to call off his trip to Boston to visit class of 2008 signee Emmanuel Negedu for the first time Sunday if need be.

    Instead, the Wildcats delivered three wins in their last three games to send them home for the holidays instead of back to the practice court, which would have the case if O’Neill felt it were necessary.

    “”I would never say anything like that if I wasn’t serious about it,”” O’Neill said. “”I think there needs to be a sense of urgency. I don’t care why they play hard. If it’s to go home for Christmas, great.

    “”I just want our kids to understand that every game there’s a sense of urgency, and I really liked the way we approached the entire week, with the games and the practices.””

    After Saturday’s 74-58 win over San Diego State, a get-away game that past Arizona teams have struggled in, guard Nic Wise confirmed that the possibility of staying home for Christmas, nonrefundable flights tickets be damned, helped the Wildcats to the win.

    “”K.O. was threatening us, we’re not going to be able to go home if we don’t win,”” he said. “”So we had to dig in in the second half and make sure we came out with the ‘W.'””

    When the Wildcats return to McKale Center Wednesday at 3 p.m. sharp – a time O’Neill said players absolutely must show up at regardless of outside circumstances, joking that’s the case even if they have to bobsled back to Tucson – they will take part in a three-hour practice that O’Neill said could turn into “”a little barf-a-thon.””

    That’s how some practices transpired at the beginning of the season when O’Neill whipped his team into shape and will occur again if players did nothing more than eat glazed hams and open presents during the break.

    O’Neill told the players to work out a couple times during the off-days to maintain the elite conditioning they have built up, something he said can be lost a bit on the third day off.

    “”That’s why I told them to have at least one hard workout,”” O’Neill said. “”Their hard workout, I can picture now the hard workout. Three laps around the Christmas tree, lay on the couch.

    “”I think they’ll get one to two good hard workouts, I really do.””

    That conditioning has played a big role in the Wildcats’ success, especially as O’Neill likes to ride his starters hard. Their four consistent starters average over 27 minutes per game with three over 32, led by guard Jerryd Bayless’ 34.2 mpg.

    Along with forward Chase Budinger and guard Jawann McClellan, forward Jordan Hill would also likely average over 30 if not for foul trouble.

    O’Neill spoke of his team being in better condition than its opponent after come-from-behind wins Dec. 2 against then-No. 9 Texas A&M and Dec. 8 against Illinois. Then Nevada-Las Vegas missed 14 of its last 16 shots on Dec. 19, during which time the Wildcats came from behind again to win a game they first led with 1:18 left in the contest.

    “”We get stronger at the end of games,”” O’Neill said. “”I think our guys are in pretty good condition. And I think that something that’s going to be important for us.

    “”I think a lot of guys play a lot of minutes, and they have to be in good condition. So I think that helps us at the end of games.””

    Count on O’Neill’s Christmas present to his team Wednesday being a practice that keeps things that way.

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