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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Budinger brings his swagger back

    Budinger hustles for a loose ball during a 106-97 Wildcat win against Washington on Jan. 29 in McKale Center. Teammate Jordan Hill said Budinger is playing as well this year as he did two seasons ago.
    Budinger hustles for a loose ball during a 106-97 Wildcat win against Washington on Jan. 29 in McKale Center. Teammate Jordan Hill said Budinger is playing as well this year as he did two seasons ago.

    After a morning practice on Friday, Arizona’s men’s basketball players slowly made their way to the lobby inside of Eugene’s Valley River Inn wearing their navy sweats. Some players sat around a fire to study, while a couple tried their best to make Beethoven’s “”Für Elise”” come alive on the grand piano.

    Chase Budinger was one of the last to walk into the room, and brought with him a beaming smile. The 6-foot-7 junior stood out among his teammates, not so much for his California blonde curls, but for the bright red, hooded sweatshirt he wore.

    It was a symbol for the way he stands out among his teammates off and on the court. He’s the team leader and is playing more like he did his first year in an Arizona uniform.

    But in this instance, that statement isn’t an insult. Budinger scored, rebounded and blocked shots more consistently as a freshman than as a sophomore. This season, he’s playing his best basketball ever.

    “”Chase is playing like his freshman year,”” said fellow junior Jordan Hill of the man who was named the Pacific 10 Conference Freshman of the Year two seasons ago. “”He’s more calm now and he shoots with confidence. He’s attacking the rim like no other. He really wants to win. He’s all fired up. … He’s basically our go-to guy.””

    Budinger is averaging 17.7 points per game on the season, which is second on the team, behind Hill’s 18.3, and fourth in the conference. In the last five games, however, the forward is averaging 20.2 points and 9 boards per game. With the Wildcats winning their last five games, it could be suggested that Budinger’s play is contagious.

    “”He always talks and he yells if he makes a good play,”” Hill said. “”He always yells -ÿhe uses a little profanity, but what team doesn’t? When he uses a little profanity, I’m like, ‘Oh, he’s on point now. He’s ready to go.’

    “”Once he does that,”” Hill added, “”I know he’s sparked up the team, he’s sparked up the staff – he’s sparked.””

    Budinger scored 15 and pulled down 9 rebounds against Houston -ÿthe game that began the winning streak. The turning point to the game – perhaps the season – was when Aubrey Coleman was ejected for stepping on Budinger’s face with about 10 minutes to go.

    UA interim head coach Russ Pennell said he noticed a positive influence when the incident occurred.

    “”I saw the way his teammates come to his side,”” Pennell said. “”I saw the way we had two freshmen right there when it happened, and jumped in his way – Kyle Fogg and Garland Judkins.

    “”When we came to the huddle, when the referees were trying to figure it all out … Chase had fire in his eyes,”” Pennell added, “”and I thought the guys were like, ‘This is pretty cool. Chase is getting fired up here.'””

    Budinger said his overall intensity is due to the fact that he’s simply enjoying the game more, thanks to winning and the chemistry of his team. Early in the season he’d get down on himself if he missed a shot, but he soon realized there are plenty of opportunities in games to do better.

    “”I think my confidence is up. Also, I’m just trying to be more aggressive out there,”” Budinger said. “”This is a time where you just got to let it fall on the court, and that’s what I’m trying to do. Each game is very valuable to us, and you just got to go out there and play as hard as you can, and that’s what I’ve resorted to.””

    Arizona currently has a 16-8 (6-5 Pac-10) record and has eight guaranteed games to fight for an NCAA Tournament berth. For the next couple of months, all eyes will be locked on Budinger – whether he’s got on his red sweatshirt or not -ÿto help his team push toward the postseason.

    “”He’s bringing it back,”” Hill said. “”I guess he’s having that feeling: He knows he’s a good player.””

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