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Cats’ Wise shines in shadows of 2 stars

Sophomore says focus on Budinger, Bayless opens up his game

"If you look at the last four or five games Nic has been one of our most valuable players," UA interim coach Kevin O'Neill said of sophomore point guard Nic Wise (above).

"If you look at the last four or five games Nic has been one of our most valuable players," UA interim coach Kevin O'Neill said of sophomore point guard Nic Wise (above).

Arizona’s Nic Wise is finding out that being in the shadows can be a good thing.

The 5-foot-10 sophomore point guard is one of the Wildcats’ most reliable players, even if he doesn’t get the attention that teammates Jerryd Bayless and Chase Budinger do.

“I don’t have a problem living in their shadow,” said Wise, UA’s on-again, off-again starter in the backcourt.

“The reason I play well so often is that they (opponents) are keying on them so hard. It leaves me open and lets me play my game. And for us to do well I have to hit big shots.”

Wise has done that for most of the season, specifically the last couple of weeks when UA has needed him to step up.

Against California, he hit a pair of big three-pointers to help seal the win, after suffering an injury late in the first half.

Against Washington State and Washington last week at McKale Center, he hit big shots to help UA win both games and improve to 14-6.

UA interim coach Kevin O’Neill has said more than twice that if Wise didn’t come back from a slight head injury against Cal, Arizona doesn’t rally to win.

Others agree.

“I was impressed,” said Cal coach Ben Braun. “I thought he was injured and he came back from the walking wounded, knocking some shots down.

“I thought we were in position to win the game. It was his play that ignited Arizona. He was instrumental and a big factor.”

That’s been the case most of the season. Wise filled in for Bayless when the freshman was injured.

“If you look at the last four or five games, Nic has been one of our most valuable players,” O’Neill said. “It’s hard to replace a guy like Jerryd; you really can’t. At the same time a lot of the things Nic has done have gone unnoticed. Nic Wise has had a great year for us so far.”

There is still a lot of season left. But through 20 games – and six starts – Wise is hitting 46.9 percent of his 3-pointers. He’s averaging 8.1 points, 4.0 assists and 2.4 rebounds a game.

“That’s what I’ve been doing my whole life – penetrating and kicking (the ball out),” Wise said. “And hitting the big shot.”

Wise has said it before: Confidence is key. And he’s playing with a lot more confidence than he did as a freshman.

“More playing time,” he said of the reason, adding that confidence from the coaches is there, too.

Last season, he played in 22 games for a total of 180 minutes. He played more than 15 minutes only three times. And his impact was minimal.

He’s averaging 27.4 minutes per contest this year.

“For a guy who didn’t play much at all, he’s played extremely well as a sophomore,” O’Neill said. “What he and (sophomore) Jordan Hill are doing in their second year . . . he’s been very impressive. He’s important to our team.”

Hill said Wise is a “hard worker” and is an unselfish player and a guy “who we need.”

O’Neill said he likes Wise’s grit.

“I like (that) Nic is full throttle all the time,” O’Neill said. “Sometimes it ends up good; sometimes it ends up bad.

“But he’s always trying to do the winning thing. He tries to make the right passes. He’s not afraid to take big shots. He’s not afraid to make big plays at the end.”

And he’s comfortable living in the shadows of UA’s big two – Bayless and Budinger.


Thursday: Arizona (14-6, 4-3) at USC (13-6, 4-3), 8:30 p.m., FSNA

Saturday: Arizona at No. 5 UCLA (18-2, 6-1), 7 p.m., ESPN

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