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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    ‘This isn’t your dad’s Arizona’

    UA forward Chase Budinger drives to the basket in a 74-57 win over NAU on Sunday in McKale Center. UA interim head coach Russ Pennell gave his team a State of the Team Address Monday to discuss the Wildcats first five games.
    UA forward Chase Budinger drives to the basket in a 74-57 win over NAU on Sunday in McKale Center. UA interim head coach Russ Pennell gave his team a “”State of the Team Address”” Monday to discuss the Wildcats’ first five games.

    Arizona vs. Loyola Marymount

    Just five games into the season and Arizona men’s basketball interim head coach Russ Pennell gave his players a self-described “”State of the Team Address”” Monday before practice.

    There wasn’t much interaction:ÿPennell talked and the players listened. He had UA’s statistics written on a board alongside opponent statistics to highlight the good, the bad and the ugly. They watched film and discussed tonight’s game at 7 against Loyola Marymount (0-6) in McKale Center.

    The most important thing Pennell discussed, however, is that this basketball program has a new twist on it now.

    “”This isn’t your dad’s Arizona. It’s not,”” Pennell said. “”This is a different type team than what fans have seen for a while.

    “”My objective as their coach is, however we’re going to get the ‘W,’ we’re going to get the ‘W,'”” Pennell added. “”And if it’s ugly, so be it. To me, beauty is in the end result anyway. I think that’s kind of where we’re at with this team.””

    Even though the Wildcats had to grind out a few wins they might not have had to in the past, the fact is they got the wins. And in the interim coach’s mind, that’s all that matters.

    “”I just told them, ‘I’m happy that we’re 4-1,'”” Pennell said. “”And I know our critics say, ‘You haven’t played the toughest schedule in the world.’ Well, that’s fine. But that’s who was on the schedule.””

    Through the Wildcats’ first five games, they’ve only lost in a dramatic 72-71 game to Alabama-Birmingham. They’re shooting, on average, 55.42 percent from the floor while holding their opponents to 43.18 percent.

    Arizona’s sunk 24-of-57 (42 percent) of their shots from beyond the new 3-point line, while their opponents have made 31-of-104 (30 percent) from the same distance.

    UA hasn’t stolen as many balls (29-26) and has more turnovers (63-58) over five games, but it has crashed harder on the glass, pulling down 167 rebounds to its

    opponents’ 134.

    “”After five games I think we have made progress. I think we’ve been moving in the right direction,”” Pennell said. “”We’re getting better at things we weren’t quite so good at, especially at the defensive end of the floor. I think our offense has been very good, not only shooting percentage, but just the fact that we’ve executed pretty good.””

    Though the Wildcats will progress into the rest of the season with a winless team on tap tonight, the reflection of the two teams may not be as dissimilar as a first glance might show.

    Not only are the Lions a young squad like the Wildcats, but LMU also boasts 10 underclassmen while the UA has seven. However, the visitors are also led by an

    interim coach.

    First-year head coach Bill Bayno took a medical leave of absence on Nov. 23, leaving assistant coach Max Good in charge.

    “”In many ways, his situation’s tougher,”” Pennell said of Good. “”He’s just really having to put a Band-Aid on a wound right now, and that’s tough. I really, really do empathize.

    “”Max is a good coach,”” Pennell added. “”One thing these LMU guys are doing is playing their tails off. There may not be many of them, but man, are they playing hard.””

    Under Good, the Lions have been experimenting with many different types of defense:ÿman-to-man, zone, box-and-1 and triangle-and-2. Pennell said he fully expects to see different variations against the Wildcats tonight.

    “”I just think that they’re probably trying to do anything they can with basically seven guys,”” Pennell said.

    For the Wildcats, having a young squad isn’t all that bad. It gives Pennell a chance to play with the lineup, experiment with different players and have unproven youngsters step up.

    “”It’s real big for them,”” said junior Nic Wise of the underclassmen. “”Me, Jordan (Hill) and Chase (Budinger) have already established ourselves, and we’re trying to find the role players behind us.””

    Having a young team play under an interim coach can also unify the players and coach -ÿat least in the best-case scenario.

    “”Adversity can affect you one of two ways,”” Pennell said. “”It can make you scatter, but man, sometimes adversity makes you bond together.””

    And for the national audience, the doubters and naysayers, defeating all odds and succeeding even through the toughest times can make the team stronger.

    “”I think a big mistake you can make in college basketball is to underestimate anybody, because this sport is ripe for upsets,””

    Pennell said.

    Remember, this isn’t your dad’s Arizona. Cupcake games don’t exist anymore and respect will have to be earned.

    There will be bumps in the road, blowouts and close calls, just as there have already been in the first five games, but Pennell said the Wildcats have gone about business at a level that gets the job

    done regardless.

    “”To this point, I think we’ve done what we needed to do,”” Pennell said. “”Now, the ante gets raised a little more, so we’ve got to raise our game, too.””

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