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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Budinger clutch late as ‘Cats prevail in ‘must-win game’

    Budinger clutch late as Cats prevail in must-win game

    Arizona 79, California 75

    BERKELEY, Calif. – Chase Budinger has been criticized all season for not having a killer instinct, sometimes looking more comfortable as a complementary star to Jerryd Bayless during crunch time.

    Budinger had missed his first six shots in the second half Saturday at California when the Wildcats had the ball with less than two minutes remaining in a tie game. With Arizona badly needing a win, Budinger’s opportunity to play hero surfaced.

    “”I knew that I needed to come up with a big shot in the second half, so I was confident coming around that screen looking to score,”” he said.

    The sophomore forward coolly came off a curl to hit a go-ahead jumper and later followed with a pair of go-ahead free throws that did not even touch the rim to lead the Wildcats (12-6, 2-3 Pacific 10 Conference) to a 79-75 road win over the Golden Bears (11-6, 2-4), snapping a three-game conference losing streak in the process.

    “”It’s a great win for us,”” said UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill. “”Cal was desperate for a win, we were desperate for a win, and any time you go on the road and get a split you should be happy.

    “”No matter how you slice it that’s a big win for us, and we didn’t play well for a while.””

    It did not seem like there would be any laughter in the UA locker room when the Wildcats trailed by seven with 7:06 left on the clock. Then Arizona locked down defensively for the next five minutes, sparking a 13-4 run during which time the team forced three of the Golden Bears’ 17 turnovers.

    “”From the seven-minute mark to the two-minute mark I loved how we played,”” O’Neill said. “”We were active, we went with our small lineup because (forward Ryan) Anderson was just torching our four men, he was killing them. I actually think Chase did a really good job on him. We had a lot of guys hit big shots and big free throws.””

    Trailing by seven, Budinger said the team came together and told each other, “”It’s time to go,”” knowing it needed to dig deep defensively and start executing on the offensive end.

    Added Bayless: “”It was a feeling that we had to pick it up or else we’re going to be in trouble. We did that, and we came out with the win.””

    The Wildcats did so in part because guard Nic Wise picked himself off the floor after taking a first-half charge against guard Patrick Christopher in which he got hit in the head with what at first was thought to be a concussion.

    Wise missed just about the first 10 minutes of the second half, but he sparked Arizona’s rally upon his return after the UA doctor cleared him to play. The 5-foot-10 guard scored 11 points in the second half, including a pair of 3-pointers, not to mention two key steals in the final few minutes.

    “”Good thing he played, we wouldn’t have won the game,”” O’Neill said. “”We would have had no chance to win the game.””

    Arizona needed Wise’s energy because Budinger disappeared in the second half after scoring 17 points on 6-for-8 shooting in the first half. Four of his six missed shots in the second half came from distance.

    “”I was just feeling it in the first half,”” Budinger said. “”It felt like every time I drove, every time I flipped the ball up it was going in. The second half they went into a zone and I started settling for outside shots when I should have attacked more.””

    Behind Budinger’s hot start and 12 of Bayless’ team-high 24 points, Arizona shot 58.3 percent in the first half. But Cal shot just as well during the first 20 minutes and finished the game shooting 53.7 percent in large part due to the play of Anderson, who scored 30 points on 10-for-13 shooting.

    O’Neill started forward Jamelle Horne, who had not played the past two games and had not started since the season opener Nov. 13 against NAU, but both Horne and forward Fendi Onobun struggled to contain Anderson.

    “”He’s not the most athletic guy, he’s not the fastest, but he’s a hell of a player,”” Horne said.

    But Anderson’s efforts weren’t enough when Budinger forgot about his poor second half and stepped up as Arizona’s go-to player in the clutch.

    “”It’s a huge win,”” Budinger said. “”We lost three in a row, we were kind of down, kind of desperate.

    “”This was kind of a must-win game for us.””

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