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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Getting set for a real grinder

    Arizona forward Jordan Hill, left, works his way past WSU forward Robbie Cowgill in the Wildcats 72-66 loss to Washington State in McKale Center on Feb. 1, 2007. The Wildcats beat the Cougars 41 out of 42 times before suffering a series sweep at the hands of WSU last season.
    Arizona forward Jordan Hill, left, works his way past WSU forward Robbie Cowgill in the Wildcats’ 72-66 loss to Washington State in McKale Center on Feb. 1, 2007. The Wildcats beat the Cougars 41 out of 42 times before suffering a series sweep at the hands of WSU last season.

    Washington State beat Arizona more times last year than it had in their previous 42 meetings.

    Before that, the Cougars’ slow-down style used to be an annoyance that the Wildcats typically overcame, with Washington State needing to convert to perfection like the

    Cougars did during their only win in that stretch back in 2005.

    But now with Washington State (16-1, 4-1 Pacific 10 Conference) bringing the No. 6 team in the nation into tonight’s 6:30 game in McKale Center, it’s the Wildcats (12-6, 2-3) that need a great performance to pull the upset.

    “”I don’t think any time you play the No. (6) team you mix very well with them,”” said UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill. “”They’re a very solid basketball team. In order for us to win we’ll have to play a really solid 40-minute game.””

    Under O’Neill, the Wildcats have sometimes played a style similar to the Cougars’ grind-it-out approach, winning grudge matches against Illinois and Nevada-Las Vegas and losing them to ASU and Stanford.

    That style of play results from an O’Neill offense that’s based on more set plays and less running than Lute Olson’s system, as well as an improved man-to-man defense.

    “”I think this year we’ve shown that we can do that too, so a lot of games that’s what we’ve done,”” said guard Jerryd Bayless. “”We’ve kind of grinded everything out, and we try to get the best shot. If the best shot comes early in the offense we’re going to take it, but we’re not in a rush really to take anything, so I think we can play that style.””

    O’Neill and Bayless talked about the importance of not making mistakes against a sound Washington State team that averages a Pac-10 low 10.7 turnovers per game. Arizona took care of the ball well during last weekend’s trip to California, giving it up 11 times Saturday at California and 10 times Thursday at Stanford.

    “”The challenge becomes for us to keep our mistakes at a very low level also, because if you’re down six it’s like being down 12, if you’re down eight it’s like being down 16 because they’re not going to make many mistakes,”” O’Neill said. “”They’re not going to beat themselves, you’re going to have to beat them. You’re going to have to play at a high level for long periods of time and then try to close the game at the end if it’s close.””

    Still, Arizona has also done a good job of selectively running this year, doing so successfully in wins over Cal State Fullerton and Houston and during the second half of a loss to Oregon.

    O’Neill has scoffed at the notion that the Wildcats don’t like to run, instead saying his team needs to pick its spots to run when chances at easy baskets present themselves.

    “”I think the important thing is that we can play at different tempos,”” O’Neill said. “”If we have opportunities to push the ball we naturally should do that like we would in any game, and it would be my hope that we could play a little bit slower if the game dictates that. We’re not going to do anything a lot different than we do, and hopefully we’ll run our stuff better than them.””

    UA forward Jordan

    They’re not going to beat themselves, you’re going to have to beat them. You’re going to have to play at a high level for long periods of time and then try to close the game at the end if it’s close.

    – Kevin O’Neill,
    interim head coach

    Hill should have an advantage in the running game against WSU’s 270-pound center Aron Baynes. Hill beat the Stanford big men down the court a few times for easy buckets Thursday and could do the same tonight.

    “”He’s a big boy but I know he’s slower than me so I can just go by him,”” Hill said of Baynes. “”I just got to stay down and play good defense on him.

    “”If we run more they get tired quickly, just going at them and just trying to get them off their game and do what we have to do.”” Fatigue has been an issue for Arizona during Pac-10 play due to its thin rotation. Four Wildcats average over 35 minutes per game during conference games, and Hill would likely be there too if not for foul trouble, with Bayless and forward Chase Budinger both averaging at least 38 minutes per game.

    Bayless said he wants to play as many minutes as O’Neill will let him and feels the team’s conditioning as a whole is “”great”” since they’ve been working on it since the first day of school, adding the team can’t get much better in terms of conditioning.

    But O’Neill acknowledged it is a concern.

    “”I think it is (a concern) any time your top players are playing the amount of minutes our guys are, but we’ve really organized practice to give those guys more rest,”” he said.

    Don’t expect O’Neill to ease up on the accelerator with his starters’ minutes with a top-10 team in town. Playing in a peculiar underdog role against the Cougars, the

    Wildcats have a chance to even their Pac-10 record while earning the type of quality win that could go a long way in March.

    “”We definitely have to come out and play hard, and we’ve got to play smart,”” Bayless said. “”You can’t make mistakes against a team like this, and we’ve got to come out there and play our game and hopefully everything else will take care of itself.””



    BREAKDOWN
    Tale of the tape: No. 6 Washington State at Arizona

    Guards
    Advantage: Washington State
    Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver arguably form the Pac-10’s best backcourt, and Taylor Rochestie isn’t bad either.

    Forwards/Center
    Advantage: Arizona
    Aron Baynes is a beast and much improved, but don’t expect him to keep up with Jordan Hill.

    Intangibles
    Advantage: Arizona
    It’s weird for Arizona to be the underdog to Washington State, with the Wildcats winning 41 of 42 before last year’s Cougar sweep. But after some early conference-season scuffles, the Wildcats know a win would get them back in the thick of things in the Pac-10.

    Prediction
    This game promises to be a real grind-it-out affair, the type of game Arizona has won a few times this year. With that experience under their belt, Washington State’s style won’t give the Wildcats as much trouble as in years past, leading to the upset.
    Arizona 58, Washington State 53

    -compiled by Michael Schwartz


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