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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Playing like it’s 1997

Hoops Notes

The Arizona men’s basketball team wasn’t supposed to do very well in the NCAA Tournament in 1997, either.

Sure, the Wildcats were a No. 4 seed, but that didn’t mean it was an easy path to the national title. They were set up against No. 13-seed South Alabama and No. 12-seed College of Charleston to get to No. 1-seed Kansas in the Sweet 16.

They wound up beating three No.1 seeds -ÿincluding Rick Pitino’s No. 1 Kentucky squad in the title game – to win the national championship in overtime.

This season, after barely making it into the tournament, the No. 12-seed Wildcats defeated No. 5-seed Utah then No. 13-seed Cleveland State to get to Pitino’s No. 1-seed Louisville in the Sweet 16.

See anything familiar here?

What’s more, in 1997, the Wildcats finished the season with a 3-8 road record. This season Arizona went 2-9 in away games.

UA forward Chase Budinger said the team has heard of the comparisons between the current squad and 1997’s, but to the current team, the numbers are just numbers.

“”We’ve heard that kind of stuff, but we’re not trying to relate to that at all,”” Budinger said. “”We’re just trying to focus on Louisville at hand and focus on ourselves right now.

“”It’s kind of funny,”” Budinger admitted, “”just to think back that it’s kind of playing out the same way.””


The Wildcats have been dubbed as a “”Cinderella”” team by some, but others don’t think of the prestigious program as a Cinderella – an underdog who isn’t supposed to go far but does – at all.

On the contrary, the Wildcats think they do have the capability to go farther. Some national critics are starting to agree.

“”We don’t consider ourselves a Cinderella team,”” Budinger said. “”As a team, we feel that we can play with anybody and the label of ‘Cinderella’ just doesn’t come to our minds at all as players. We feel that we’re a good team; we feel that that label shouldn’t be added to us.””

UA interim head coach Russ Pennell, on the other hand, said in many ways Arizona does classify as a Cinderella team because of the circumstances the Wildcats had to go through this season, though even he has become confused with the term at times.

“”We’ve gone through a lot and have come out the backside pretty good,”” Pennell said. “”… I certainly think that our talent level is good enough not to be considered Cinderella.””

Pardon the interview requests

Though Arizona’s Cinderella status can be argued, one thing certainly can’t: Pennell has become one of American’s most interesting figures in college basketball.

“”I’m happy to be doing my 34th interview of the day,”” Pennell said with a smile as he sat down before the local media Tuesday afternoon.

Pennell said his Tuesday interviews began at 7 that morning. On Monday he was the guest on the “”Five Good Minutes”” segment of ESPN’s “”Pardon The Interruption.””

“”PTI was kind of weird,”” Pennell said. “”When you think of ‘Five Good Minutes,’ you think of someone famous. That one was kind of a surprise. But it was nice. It was fun.””

‘You ought to go Floyd on them.’

When Pennell’s 11-year-old daughter, Morgan, went to Wilson School in Oro Valley on Monday, she found her locker to be decorated in basketballs. She’s loved the sports her dad coaches for a long time.

But Morgan’s 9-year-old sister, Emily, has only recently gotten into basketball, her father said.

Pennell learned this on a drive home during the regular season.

“”My voice was kind of hoarse, and she said, ‘Daddy, what’s wrong with your throat?’ I said, ‘Ah, I’ve been yelling too much,'”” Pennell said. “”She said, ‘Have you been yelling at the players?’ I said, ‘Naw, I’ve been yelling at the referees.’

“”She kind of laughs. This is right after USC played Arizona State. She said, ‘You ought to go Floyd on them,'”” Pennell added, referring to USC head coach Tim Floyd. “”She’s 9. I thought I misunderstood her. I said, ‘What?’ She said, ‘Go Floyd on them.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ She said, ‘Well, just go out on the court and yell at them; scream at them.’ I said, ‘Don’t you think you’d be a little embarrassed, Emily, if I did that?’ She said, ‘No, I think that’d be pretty cool.'””

Celly sleepers

Before the Wildcats head to bed each night during road games, the coaching staff collects the players’ cell phones to ensure they get as much rest as possible, Pennell said.

The same process will be held Thursday night.

“”They need to go into that game not having to worry about anything else but playing Louisville,”” Pennell said.

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