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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Young Wildcats improving after tough road test

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Anybody who postponed their Thanksgiving break to watch the Arizona men’s basketball team play Adams State on Wednesday in McKale Center couldn’t have expected this.

Or anybody who saw NAU’s big man combo of Kyle Landry and Ryan McCurdy tear up the Wildcats down low must have wanted to close their eyes when Arizona faced legitimate big men in Kansas’ trio of Darell Arthur, Sasha Kaun and Darnell Jackson.

UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill can talk about there being no such thing as a moral victory all he wants, but for the Wildcats to come a jumper away from winning at No. 4 Kansas on a night they turned the ball over 25 times shows a young team that’s improving.

“”I think that we have gotten better,”” O’Neill said. “”We were terrible against Northern Arizona, better against Virginia. We were so-so against UMKC and Adams State, but I thought we stepped up and played well on the road. We made some strides on the defensive end. We have had two games that have come right down the stretch, and we just haven’t come through.””

O’Neill added that his team has been tested twice thus far and not passed either exam to the point of winning. That’s life with a tough schedule that still includes games at No. 3 Memphis, UNLV and Houston, a neutral-court affair in Chicago against Illinois and a home date with No. 16 Texas A&M.

“”This isn’t going to be an easy road for these young guys, but I think from games one to game five we’ve made some strides,”” O’Neill said. “”Unfortunately, we’re two possessions away from being 5-0 and highly ranked, but that’s on us, we didn’t execute.””

Center Kirk Walters pointed to the turnovers – a typical sign of a young team – as the reason Arizona lost last night, but he sees signs of improvement.

“”We’ve got to grow up as a team, but we’re getting there,”” Walters said. “”When you bring the No. (4) team in the nation to overtime it shows you’re a pretty good team.””

Facing a team as talented as the Jayhawks in an environment as rowdy as Allen Fieldhouse, where Kansas rarely loses, brought the toughness out of the Wildcats, said forward Chase Budinger.

“”A lot of people doubt this team, and I think (last night’s) performance shows we can play with anybody in the country,”” he said. “”As you can see our team has gotten better and better with each game, and we keep on continuing to improve. So if we keep improving each game, each practice then we’re going to be pretty tough.””

The Wildcats still have much room to get better. Besides the alarming number of turnovers, Arizona has twice failed to execute down the stretch in close games, and interior depth appears to be elusive.

But even with it still being November, last night’s game showed how good the Wildcats can be.

“”I think we need to come out and play like this every day,”” said freshman guard Jerryd Bayless. “”If we do, we can definitely stay in games and, hopefully, win some. We had this game, but we let it go in the end. We had our shot to win this game, but we turned it over, and we just need to take care of that problem.

“”We’ve just got to continue to play like this, and the sky’s the limit.””

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