Wildcats find toughness to top San Diego St.
The Arizona men’s basketball team’s motto for the 2008-09 season may be “Win ugly.”
That’s what the Wildcats did Wednesday night at McKale Center in beating San Diego State 69-56 in a nonconference game.
“I think what you are starting to see,” said UA interim coach Russ Pennell, “is that we’re starting to become more of a blue-collar team. We’re starting to get a little more grit, getting some toughness. I sense we’re moving in that direction because we have to be.
“I’ve said all along, I’m not sure how pretty we’re going to be, but I think we can be backyard brawlers.”
The Wildcats would be more than glad to win ugly again Sunday. That’s when they face No. 4 Gonzaga at Phoenix’s US Airways Center as part of the Desert Classic. Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m.
UA (6-2) got tough when it had to Wednesday, outscoring the Aztecs 11-0 in the final 4:16.
“That was just about playing defense and coming out hard,” said Jamelle Horne, who had eight of the 11 points in the late run. “There was intensity. That’s what coach was harping on in the locker room. They didn’t see that (in the first half).
“(In the second), we played hard and with great energy.”
The Aztecs, who had a six-game winning streak coming in, are now 7-2.
“I’ve always been impressed with their athleticism,” SDSU coach Steve Fisher said. “They may not be deep, but their guys are athletic and skilled.”
Pennell said he was proud of his team in a game that had a “Pac-10 feel” because of its physical nature. Arizona limited SDSU to 34.9 percent from the floor, including 5 for 26 from 3-point range.
“They were outstanding on the defensive end, which I can’t believe is coming out of my mouth,” Pennell said. “I’m proud of them.”
It took a solid second half and some key shooting – something the Wildcats didn’t have in the first half – to take control of the game.
Through the first nine minutes of the second half, UA went 9 for 14 from the floor, turning a 26-21 halftime deficit into a 47-40 lead with 10:51 left. UA’s 21 points were its fewest for a half this season.
It was Arizona’s Big Three – Jordan Hill, Nic Wise and Chase Budinger – who did most of the damage in an 11-2 UA run early in the second half.
The highlight came on Hill’s behind-the-back pass on a fast break that ended in a Budinger dunk.
“I’ve been working on that,” Hill said, laughing. “I just had to try to do something stupid.”
He did, although accidentally, miss a power dunk with 2:17 left with UA holding a slim lead at 62-56.
“I always try to dunk hard. I cocked it back too far,” Hill said. “I thought I was Vince (Carter) for a minute.”
Still, the Wildcats couldn’t shake the Aztecs as the teams traded late baskets.
San Diego State tied it at 54 with 5:10 left, but Arizona took the lead behind six consecutive points by Horne.
“There were a handful of turnovers down the stretch that led to dunks and free throws and those kind of break your back,” Fisher said.
Horne said he got some secondary satisfaction in the win, in part because he’s a San Diego native.
“More than half of those guys are either AAU traveling teammates or just guys I know from San Diego,” said Horne, who added he won a dinner bet with one of them. “We were chirping (back and forth) the entire game.”
Horne picked up a key rebound with 90 seconds left and added a late dunk.
Pennell said he was pleased with how Horne finished the game after he started the contest with little energy. Pennell went as far as removing Horne from the game minutes into the second half.
“I just wasn’t happy with the way he was responding on the floor,” Pennell said. “I thought he was way too passive and he was getting shoved and wasn’t battling back. When he went back in he found his batteries and he was charged.”
Hill was charged all game, flirting with a triple-double, getting 26 points, 13 rebounds and six blocked shots. He had six blocks at the half.
“He’s improving (every) game, which is kind of scary,” said Horne of Hill. “(He’s doing it) against double teams.”
Wednesday, Hill even hit his free throws. He entered the game with a 55 percent average from the line, most recently missing a key free throw that could have helped UA beat Texas A&M last week. Hill went 9 for 12 from the line against SDSU, prompting Horne to applaud.
“That’s been my main focal point,” said Hill, who, like his teammates, is shooting at least 50 free throws a day. “I’m trying to get better on those. At the beginning of the season my free throws were real good but (the percentage) kept dropping and dropping. But I kept working on them.”
Budinger added 14 points. Wise added 13 points and five assists.
Tim Shelton had 13 points to lead the Aztecs, while Lorrenzo Wade had 11 in his first game of the year following a suspension.
More game photos
Arizona over San Diego State
University of Arizona beats San Diego State 69-56 during Wednesday’s basketball game at McKale Center.
Producer: XAVIER GALLEGOS/Tucson Citizen
Arizona (6-2) vs. No. 4 Gonzaga (7-0)
When: 4 p.m. Sunday
Where: US Airways Center in Phoenix
Radio: 1290 AM, 107.5 FM
Up 58-56 with 4:16 left, UA went on a 11-0 run to pull away for the win. Jamelle Horne had eight of the 11 points.
By the numbers
0 points by UA’s bench. It went 0 for 3 from the field.
6 blocks by UA’s Jordan Hill. That tied a career-high.
21 Three-point misses by San Diego State, which went 5 of 26.