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Cats need solid play from Wise for stretch run

Can Wise’s moves carve up Louisville’s press?

Arizona's Jordan Hill gets loose before practice at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Thursday. The Wildcats take on top-ranked Louisville on Friday in the Midwest Region semifinal of the NCAA Tournament.

Arizona's Jordan Hill gets loose before practice at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Thursday. The Wildcats take on top-ranked Louisville on Friday in the Midwest Region semifinal of the NCAA Tournament.

INDIANAPOLIS – Nic Wise is ready for the biggest game of his young life.

The Arizona point guard will make a strong statement – and perhaps elevate his status – if he can help beat Louisville’s signature full-court pressure defense Friday in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

Wise already has the cool demeanor of past UA guards who led the Wildcats to Final Four appearances: Steve Kerr (1988); Damon Stoudamire (1994); Mike Bibby and Jason Terry (1997) and Jason Gardner (2001).

“Every game is the same to me,” Wise said, not batting an eye. “To me, it’s just another game that’s important.

“You want to win. You want to keep playing for the chance at a national championship.”

Bibby set the standard in helping lead UA to the title in 1997 here in Indy.

Yet, Wise doesn’t compare himself to Bibby or the other past Wildcats at Point Guard U.

“I am my own player; I don’t want to compare myself to anybody else,” he said. “I respect all the other guards who have come through here and have set the tone. All are good in their own way. Now I just trying to contribute on my own.”

So far, so good. He enters the Midwest semifinal as the second-most productive player (50 points, 10 assists) in the region. Kansas guard Sherron Collins has 57 points and 11 assists.

No. 1 seed Louisville is expecting a guard who can change speeds and create havoc.

“He’s a great ball-handler; a vision guy and a great scorer,” said Louisville guard Andre McGee.

Wise, however, says he’s not a one-man team. His teammates will have a say in handling the full-court press. They’ve always had a say.

“This isn’t personal,” Wise said. “It’s all five of us and not just me.

“It’s not a one-man press. One guy won’t be bringing up the ball. It’s not about me. . . . We plan on breaking it.”

Teammate Chase Budinger believes UA has a good chance because of Wise, who he says “can find gaps no other guards can find.”

“Nic is probably one of the biggest competitors I’ve known,” Budinger said. “He brings it every game. He likes the challenge. He likes it when he goes up against bigger guards who are highly ranked because he thinks he should be at that level, too.

“He really brings it. He’s been doing a heck of a job. He’ll have a lot on his hands, but he’s been great for us. I think he’ll handle the press just fine.”

For UA interim coach Russ Pennell, Wise is arguably the best point guard he’s ever coached, adding that former Arizona State guard Eddie House was more of a shooter than a ball-handler.

“Nic just has the makeup, and he usually comes up big in big games,” Pennell said. “He hits big shots at big times. To me that’s what makes point guards.”

Then there’s Wise’s toughness. He plays bigger than his 5-foot-10 frame. And he’s been able to play through injuries, including knee problems.

He has “a quiet toughness,” Pennell said. “That guy can take more physical pain than anybody.”

Pennell said he’s been told Wise may need a knee replacement when he’s 35 years old.

“There will be days when (a knee) is swollen, and we hold him out and then we look up and he’s in the drills,” Pennell said. “He just doesn’t want people to know that he’s hurting. He’s tough.”

Rick Pitino knows that, too. Louisville’s coach said he enjoys watching Wise play.

“He’s obviously on a great run, shooting the ball extremely well,” Pitino said.

“He’s also lightning-quick (and has) great defensive hands. I really appreciate his game. I don’t know if I’ll appreciate playing against it.”

It all depends on how Wise and the Wildcats handle the press.



(Averages after 2 games)

Points: 25.0

Assists: 5.0

Rebounds: 3.0

Steals: 1.5

Turnovers: 4.0

FT%: 100 (17-17)

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