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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Arizona not a bubble team

    It’s late February and people are giddy with bubble talk. But the Arizona men’s basketball team (18-9, 9-7 Pacific 10 Conference) is not on the bubble, but rather has its feet firmly entrenched in the NCAA Tournament.

    The Wildcats own the nation’s No. 1 strength of schedule thanks to nonconference games against Virginia (19-8), New Mexico State (21-7), Nevada-Las Vegas (23-6), Illinois (21-9), Louisville (21-8), San Diego State (20-8), Memphis (25-3), and North Carolina (24-5), as well as playing against arguably the best Pac-10 Conference since Arizona joined in 1978-79.

    “”If you take a look at our schedule, it goes down to who you’ve played and what our record is,”” said Arizona head coach Lute Olson. “”The NCAA is going to reward the teams with the toughest schedules.””

    Even if Arizona loses its last two games to California and Stanford, it would finish at .500 in conference play. With a first-round loss in the Pac-10 Tournament, the Wildcats would have an 18-12 record going into the Big Dance.

    Worst NCAA tournament seeds in Lute Olson era:
    ? No. 10 seed 1987
    ? No. 10 seed 1985
    ? No. 9 seed 2004
    ? No. 9 seed 1986
    ? No. 8 seed 2006
    ? No. 5 seed 1995

    Last season, Indiana went 18-11 and received a No. 6 seed, Alabama was a No. 10 at 17-12, and the Wildcats themselves were a No. 8 seed with a 19-12 record heading in. Georgia was a No. 8 seed in 2001 with a 16-14 record. So it’s safe to say that the Wildcats are in no danger of breaking their 22-year NCAA Tournament streak

    Where have you gone, Jawann McClellan?

    Junior guard Jawann McClellan is not only suffering from knee problems; he’s mired in an extended slump. Since scoring 15 points against Washington on Feb. 3, McClellan has averaged 4.4 points in five games and has seen his minutes dwindle.

    On the season, his average has dropped to 10 points per game and 8.4 in conference.

    “”It’s really hard when you’re starting and you go on the bench and from the bench you try to come back but when you make mistakes you go back on the bench,”” senior Ivan Radenovic said. “”Sometimes you can just try to do whatever – be focused, work harder – but things just aren’t working out for him.””

    McClellan was the first man off the bench against ASU, but did not play in the second half.

    1-2 forward punch

    “”Thank goodness for Chase Budinger and Marcus (Williams),”” Olson said after the ASU game Sunday.

    Budinger scored 23 points and Williams added 19 to lead Arizona. When the duo scores at least 15 points each, the Wildcats are 8-1.

    “”It’s very rare that both of us are on,”” Budinger said. “”I think tonight we showed that both of us played well, hopefully both of us can keep doing that.””

    Though Budinger is usually Southern California cool, the flagrant foul on Marcus Williams got his attention.

    Budinger pointed angrily at Jeff Pendergraph but was restrained before any altercation. After making several shots down the stretch, Budinger also tried to lift his teams’ emotions.

    “”There are points in the game where we weren’t very emotional, so I thought I needed to bring back, after I made a play, start yelling, try to get the team energized,”” he said.

    Bad luck, bad season for ASU

    Since Arizona’s 71-47 win over ASU, the Sun Devils have lost six times by less than six points, to go along with a win over USC. Their six losses include a one-point loss to then-No. 18 Washington State, a four-point loss to then-No. 13 Oregon, and a six-point loss to then-No. 5 UCLA. But Olson gave ASU credit for not falling apart as a team.

    “”I think (ASU head coach) Herb (Sendek) and his staff should be given a tremendous amount of credit and his players have shown tremendous character to have the kind of bad luck they’ve had, and yet every game they’ve played really, really hard, and that’s not easy to do,”” he said.

    UA guard Mustafa Shakur said he sensed a level of confidence in the Sun Devils.

    “”They’re on a pretty good high right now, coming off of beating USC, and we lost to USC twice so they’re thinking, ‘We can beat these guys too because we just beat USC the other day so why we can’t we beat Arizona?'”” he said.

    Halftime deficits

    Prior to Sunday, when Arizona trailed at halftime, the Wildcats’ record was 4-5. Despite a 31-30 deficit to ASU, Arizona bounced back in the second half.

    Radenovic attributed the better second half to technical halftime adjustments.

    “”We expected 40 minutes of zone, but we prepared for one type of offense and it didn’t work,”” he said. “”So we had to adjust to it, and the second half we came out with me in the high post where I got the ball and dished it inside where Marcus, (forward) Bret (Brielmaier) and Chase scored easy layups.””

    Brielmaier’s free throw

    The junior Brielmaier played a career-high 27 minutes and made a crucial first free throw with seven seconds left and Arizona up 58-55.

    Asked if it was the biggest free throw of his career, Brielmaier said: “”It was big. I hit one in the state tournament once back in high school that was pretty big.””

    Brielmaier scored eight points on 3-of-3 shooting from the field and grabbed six rebounds, but the free throw helped seal the deal.

    “”These guys are the ones here to get the big dunks and all the big 3s,”” Brielmaier said. “”I’m gonna come in and move some bodies around, grab some rebounds and play defense, so that’s my role; I’ve accepted that.””

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