Gift of NCAA spot gives Budinger chance to step up
MIAMI – Arizona junior forward Chase Budinger knows it’s his time to shine.
He can end the season with impressive performances or go out with people remembering he didn’t live up to his reputation.
But what he knows and what he does are two different things as the No. 12 seed Wildcats prepare for No. 5 seed Utah here at American Airlines Arena.
The game begins at 4:10 p.m. Tucson time Friday.
“This is the biggest stage you could play in in college basketball,” Budinger said. “Big players step up. And that’s what I’ll be trying to do.”
He said he won’t force anything. He won’t try to do more than he knows he’s capable of, although when he first put on an Arizona uniform he was thought to be the next great thing.
Nearly three seasons later, he is still trying to prove himself.
“This is the time to let it all loose,” he said.
Friday in the Midwest regional – more than 2,000 miles from McKale Center – Budinger will have another opportunity.
“It’s pleasing personally to get a second chance to play in the spotlight again,” he said. “I did play poorly against ASU (in the Pac-10 Tournament). I want to show I am a better player than I showed.”
In his words, big-time players step up in big-time games. He mentioned former UA players such as Jason Gardner and Luke Walton doing it earlier this decade.
Arizona is not short of those types. Others included Sean Elliott, Mike Bibby, Damon Stoudamire, Salim Stoudamire and Richard Jefferson.
“The guys were able to win games and lead their teams deep into the tournament,” said Budinger, who is averaging 17.9 points per game this year. “That’s what I’m trying to do.”
UA interim coach Russ Pennell says he, too, knows what Budinger is up against.
“I think Chase will play well,” Pennell said. “Chase has had some games this year where he’s been borderline dominant and he’s had games where he didn’t play quite well.
“I know he was disappointed in his last time out, which has served as motivation.”
As if Budinger needs any more. But this season, outside of his three-game shooting slump, he’s been able to bounce back from poor performances. And admittedly, his dreadful performance against ASU was hardly inspiring. He went 3 for 15 and looked indifferent.
“People remember last games and that’s why I was relieved that we got into the tournament,” he said. “It gives me a second chance. I need to bounce back. I don’t look back. I look at what I can do in the next one.”
Utah coach Jim Boylen is prepared. At least he knows what he’s up against. Boylen considers Budinger “one of the better players we’ve played all year.” He added he’s a player with size (6 feet 7)), a shot (47 percent) and ball skills (can play multiple positions).
“We’ll probably guard him by committee,” Boylen said. “We’ll be ready for what he does.”
Budinger said he’ll be ready, too. He said he’ll be more aggressive and get after rebounds more. He’ll be a different player from last week.
“It’s about letting the game come to me,” he said. “And it’s about having fun. That’s what I want to do – go out and have fun.”
No time like the present.