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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Just the right time to play ASU

    In 2001-02, the Pacific 10 Conference reached its peak, at least in terms of sending teams to the Big Dance. Six Pac-10 teams appeared in the NCAA tournament that year, including Arizona, who has made the postseason an annual destination since 1984-85.

    Currently, the Pac-10 is vying to challenge its peak with five teams ranked in the Associated Press poll, another receiving votes (Stanford), and Washington, which has fallen on hard times as of late, but still sports a 10-1 non-conference record and a win over then-No. 12 LSU. And that’s not to mention California, which sits ahead of Arizona in the Pac-10 standings.

    The Pac-10’s strength, however, has not been beneficial to Arizona in the win category.

    The No. 17 Wildcats (13-5, 4-4 Pac-10) lost three road games to currently ranked teams – No. 25 USC, No. 3 UCLA and No. 20 Washington State – and a home game to a current top-10 team, No. 7 Oregon.

    Senior Kirk Walters has had a different view of Pac-10 teams, sitting on the bench with mononucleosis this season.

    “”One thing is that this year we have such great competition in the Pac-10, so it’s not a sense of where we’re panicking,”” he said.

    The Wildcats face the Pac-10’s cellar today in ASU (6-13, 0-8), which hasn’t won a game in the Pac-10 yet and is in danger of going winless in conference play.

    ASU hasn’t won in McKale Center since March 1995, a game that took two overtimes.

    “”We definitely can’t look past them,”” forward Chase Budinger said. “”We’ve got to come out here and just play our game and defend our home court.””

    Arizona hasn’t had a clean slate in the Pac-10 at home since 1999-00, and this year’s loss to the Ducks makes this season no different.

    Meanwhile, the Ducks’ lone loss the entire season came at home against USC.

    “”The killer for us is when you don’t control your home court, but I guess everybody in the league can say that,”” said UA head coach Lute Olson.

    Olson’s goals have never been about peaking in the middle of the Pac-10 season, but rather about hitting stride in March. Last year, Olson said to look out for the Wildcats in February, but the team didn’t show off its capabilities until two games into the NCAA tournament.

    Budinger said he thinks the Wildcats can begin to regain their earlier level of play by this February.

    “”This is probably the best time for us to be playing bad,”” he said. “”It’s January, hopefully we can turn this around right now and in February we can start making an incline up and hopefully when March comes we’ll hit our peak.””

    Olson, of course, has seen his teams hit lulls before, albeit not one of this quantity since his first season.

    His assertion that the Wildcats “”are getting there”” implies that Arizona still has plenty of time to reach success.

    “”The season is so long, stretched over such a long period of time, it’s hard to not have stretches where you don’t play as well as you played before,”” Olson said.

    If the UCLA game was any indication, Arizona is headed in the right direction, said forward Marcus Williams. The Wildcats struggled to sustain a high level of energy, and Olson was forced to preach playing hard in the locker room afterward. He didn’t have to do that after the UCLA game.

    “”At UCLA we really got after it,”” Williams said. “”We played hard, we just weren’t hitting shots, we struggled a little bit, but we give them credit. They’re a good team, and every team in the Pac-10 is good and they play tough.””

    Yet, the nine first-half turnovers after the 12 first-half turnovers against USC, together with defensive lapses that allowed USC’s Nick Young, the Pac-10 Player of the Week, to stroll down the middle of the lane for easy buckets, are still a large concern.

    “”I think it’s just mental lapses that really nags (Olson) as far as things we know,”” Williams said. “”We know the scouting reports … and they gave us tendencies and for whatever reason we didn’t follow those layouts.””

    Williams, despite his sophomore status on the team, is a relative veteran. He and point guard Mustafa Shakur, the same duo who started the “”Atlanta”” chant at the end of every huddle, have discussed what it’s going to take to push the team in an upward direction.

    “”Me and ‘Staf definitely talk a lot as far as emphasizing to try to at least be a lot more vocal with the guys who are struggling at any point in the game to make sure we got on people in a positive way,”” Williams said.

    The Wildcats will need Williams – who is playing with two injured wrists – senior Ivan Radenovic and Shakur to show them the way back up the hill to the Pac-10 top.

    “”Our senior leaders really try to step up and keep us together because when you do lose a couple of games, you start seeing the team getting down and the confidence going down, but you just can’t let that happen,”” Budinger said. “”Mustafa and Ivan have really stepped up and told us we have to stick together.””

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