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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    It’s Tourney Time: Wildcats prepped for big stage

    The Wildcats participate in an open practice Thursday evening in AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami.
    The Wildcats participate in an open practice Thursday evening in AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami.

    MIAMI – Another big city.

    Another big tournament.

    Another big game.

    Friday’s edition, through the eyes of the Arizona men’s basketball team, is just another business trip – coming from a team accustomed to those intangible distractions outside of the basketball realm.

    While ultimately, the end result comes down to 40 minutes of 5-on-5 basketball, Friday’s game in AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami hosts yet another laundry list of off-court diversions and hype.

    But for the first time this season, the No. 12-seed Wildcats (19-13) face a true do-or-die, win-or-go-home scenario. No exceptions.

    Against No. 5-seed Utah (24-9) at 4:10 p.m., it’s the opening round of the tournament that every team fixes its focus on from the beginning: March Madness.

    “”I mean, Miami is a distraction city,”” UA forward Jordan Hill said Thursday afternoon. “”We’ve been to a lot of distraction cities, but we manage just to stay focused on what we need to stay focused on, and that’s to play basketball.””

    Added Utah forward Shaun Green on the glamours big-city atmosphere: “”I don’t think we’ve been distracted at all. We’re definitely enjoying the experience and taking it in for what it’s worth. But we definitely came down here with a job, just to get another win and win a couple games and hopefully move on, and that’s the way we’ve looked at it.

    “”We haven’t looked at it as vacation or time to just party,”” Green added. “”There’s plenty of time to do that after the season, so we’re definitely down here to win the game.””

    If any team could be well-conditioned for these types of environments, the Wildcats can tout a full résumé from this season alone.

    The Wildcats have already played in Las Vegas and Los Angeles twice. Now add Miami to the list of big nightlife, entertainment cities where Arizona has inhabited a visiting locker room.

    “”Miami is a beautiful place, and we really haven’t been doing nothing much since we got here but just trying to prepare for the game tomorrow,”” Hill said. “”We just try not to let that get in our way but try to prepare, stay focused.””

    But are they well-conditioned for the big-game atmosphere? Or the tournament-style format?

    So far, the Wildcats have played in two regular-season tournaments: the Preseason NIT and Pacific 10 Conference Tournaments.

    The Preseason NIT certainly didn’t stage a high-pressure environment that could have largely impacted Arizona’s post-season chances.

    Arizona lost against UAB in the Preseason NIT regional finals it hosted in McKale Center, sending UA to Athens, Ga., to pick up two wins against significantly weaker competition in a consolation bracket.

    However, many viewed the Pac-10 Tournament essentially as win-or-go-home-to-the-NIT last weekend.

    Arizona lost in Staples Center to ASU in the Pac-10 Tournament, an unforgiving format that didn’t give Arizona a chance to redeem itself or furthermore boost its résumé for the NCAA Selection Committee.

    But they made it. And now they’re here under unforgiving circumstances.

    “”The thing that we are trying to do with this team is keep everything as consistent as possible, from our workouts to when we eat,”” said UA interim head coach Russ Pennell. “”You know, you’re not going to trick these guys. They know this is a big venue and that’s part of the fun of being in the NCAA Tournament. So I want them to enjoy that.

    “”But honestly I think the biggest thing is when we tip it off tomorrow night at 7:10 (EDT) that they can approach it as a basketball game, that they have to be in tune with what we need to do to get the job done,”” Pennell added.

    ‘Cats have experiences in NBA arenas, too

    After the 68-56 loss to ASU in Staples Center, UA wing Chase Budinger said the NBA arena played a role into his shooting slump; Budinger shot just 3-for-15 from the field and scored just 8 points.

    This season, the Wildcats have played in U.S. Airways Center, home of the Phoenix Suns, and Thomas & Mack Center, home to UNLV but similarly large in size to an NBA venue.

    As for the Utah Utes, they’d be satisfied with playing in front of a television audience.

    Utah played on The Mtn, a regional Mountain West Conference sports television network, 16 times this season, and appeared on national television six times (Versus, 3; CBSCollegeSports, 2; ESPN2, 1)

    “”We haven’t seen much of them or heard much of them at all this year,”” said UA point guard Nic Wise. “”We can tell they’re a great team just by looking at their schedule. They beat UNLV and Gonzaga. We beat Gonzaga but we lost to UNLV, so we know how tough they are. Just winning their league and their tournament shows how good they are.””

    Without the national exposure of a power conference team, Utah has endured an early underdog role in the Tournament. The Wildcats have been a popular pick over the Utes as the No. 12-seed vs. No. 5-seed upset that March Madness typically sees.

    That comes days after Arizona barely slipped into the NCAA Tournament presumably as the last at-large bid handed out by the Selection Committee, based on its 12 seed.

    “”Again, I think that’s based on the fact that a lot of people aren’t familiar with Utah. I don’t see how in the world a 12 seed could be a favorite over a 5, especially one that played in a tough league like they played in, got a share of the conference championship, then won the conference tournament,”” Pennell said. “”We certainly don’t look at it that way, and I wonder if that’s something they started in Salt Lake to fire them up, because that would fire me up if I was them. The seedings mean absolutely nothing right now because it’s one-game seasons.””

    Added Green: “”It’s not like a huge deal to where we’re like dwelling over it and feeling bad for ourselves. We more look at it as just motivation to just keep proving people wrong. We were picked fourth in our conference, and we ended up being tied for first. I don’t think anybody picked us to win the conference tournament and we ended up winning that.””

    No East Coast jet lag with late time

    The Wildcats travel to the East Coast for the second time this season. With a 7:10 p.m. local start time in Miami, Arizona won’t worry about jet lag and adjusting to the three-hour time difference.

    Budinger said he doesn’t expect the team to watch any of the previous games in AmericanAirlines Center that take place throughout the day; instead, he said the team will most likely review film.

    “”Yeah, we woke up this morning at 9:30 and we were dragging because in Tucson it’s 6:30 or 7,”” Wise said. “”We are still getting used to it.””

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