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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Wildcats out for revenge

    If any picture could tell a thousand words, it’s got to be the one still hanging on Jawann McClellan’s wall, months shy of two years since it was taken.

    In the shot, the then-freshman guard sits at the end of the court with his jersey over his eyes as the buzzer sounds to signal the end of Illinois’ Elite Eight comeback from a 15-point deficit with less than four minutes left that nobody involved with Arizona basketball will soon forget.

    “”It’s the greatest comeback ever,”” McClellan said.

    McClellan and his Arizona teammates get their chance at revenge when the Wildcats (4-1) take on Illinois (7-1) tomorrow at 3:15 p.m. in U.S. Airways Center.

    But that’s not the way senior point guard Mustafa Shakur sees it.

    “”I don’t want to overdo it and get too hyped about the past,”” he said. “”The biggest thing is to go out there and focus on winning and doing the things we do and not going too crazy outside of it.””

    In that contest that seemingly the entire nation watched, then-UA recruit Marcus Williams, now a sophomore forward, remembers turning off his television early thinking Arizona had won the game.

    Then a friend called and told Williams his future school had crumbled.

    “”I was like, ‘Oh,'”” Williams said. “”I don’t want to talk about it. We don’t say anything about it or anything, but I think they (his current teammates) owe them, big time.””

    UA head coach Lute Olson also didn’t want to talk about the contest in a teleconference Wednesday because it “”was a long time ago,”” but he said the contest was particularly tough because of what it meant for ’05 seniors Channing Frye and Salim Stoudamire.

    “”Any time you lose a game like that, it’s always tough,”” Olson said, “”and the reason it was really tough was for our seniors, because that was the first senior group since 1987 that hadn’t played in at least one Final Four game. That’ll be the thing that stands out in my mind.””

    This time, however, Arizona figures to have home-court advantage, with the neutral court setting being in Phoenix rather than Rosemont, Ill., which was covered in Illini orange.

    “”Hopefully we’ll have a lot of fans, the whole thing will be red,”” Shakur said.

    The so-called rematch is part of the inaugural Basketball Hall of Fame Challenge, which also includes No. 23 Gonzaga’s contest against Texas at 1 p.m. There will be editions of this showcase in a different venue across the country every year to give the Hall of Fame more exposure, with preliminary plans putting the game in Boston next year.

    The Wildcats have previously participated in a Hall of Fame-sponsored event, back when it was played in Springfield, Mass., home of the basketball Hall of Fame that Olson is a part of.

    “”I think it’s a great thing for the Hall of Fame to move the game around like they’re doing with this,”” Olson said. “”With the interest that’s been shown in this game in terms of ticket sales and the rest of it, it’s very obvious that basketball fans are all over this country, and basketball fans across the country feel like they should be involved with the Naismith Hall of Fame.””

    Olson said his squad has been improving with every game, especially in terms of its rebounding and defense. After allowing 86.3 points per game in its first two contests, including 93 in the loss at No. 25 Virginia, the Wildcats have allowed an average of just 66 the past two.

    “”If it had been a week or so ago, I would have been concerned about it, but I really do see now some of the things that were huge weaknesses for us a week to two weeks ago in terms of boards and defense,”” Olson said. “”I think we’re making progress on that. … It’s pretty hard to run fast breaks when you take the ball out of the net, so we’re going to have to do a good job defensively.””

    But still the Wildcats haven’t forgotten what happened two years ago, especially among those who were there.

    Shakur said the Wildcats need to keep their foot on Illinois’ throat and just keep going, regardless of the score.

    Radenovic said Arizona has already learned its lesson in a lesser fashion this year, letting the Cavaliers come back from a 19-point deficit in the Wildcats’ season-opening loss and allowing New Mexico State to make a comeback after getting out to an early 24-point lead that dwindled to five.

    So should Wildcat fans be nervous if Arizona grabs a 15-point lead with four minutes to play?

    “”We’re ready,”” McClellan said. “” We’re not going to let that happen again.””

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