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Wildcats tough to stop when they pile on

Citizen Staff Writer



Arizona interim basketball coach Russ Pennell has been saying the same thing to Fendi Onobun all season.

Just wait. You’ll get your chance. Your time will come.

There was 3:23 left against Washington on Thursday, the outcome in the balance, and Arizona big man Jordan Hill had just fouled out. A tough spot for the Wildcats, even though they led by eight.

Pennell walked slowly to the scorer’s table with Onobun, who had his big left arm draped around the coach’s shoulder. Pennell exhorted him to be a monster inside against Washington’s burly big man Jon Brockman.

By the way, Fendi, this is your moment.

Arizona’s 106-97 victory over the league-leading Huskies will be remembered for a variety of moments.

For keeping alive hope of an NCAA Tournament bid, for UA’s prolific free-throw shooting, for the play of the Big Three: Chase Budinger, Hill and Nic Wise combined for 72 points, 20 rebounds and 14 assists.

Just don’t forget everything else that went into the victory.

Such as 16 points from freshman guard Kyle Fogg, a what-me-worry 3-pointer in crunch time by Zane Johnson and 13 hard-playing minutes from Onobun.

Call this one a total team effort.

“I thought (Fendi) did an outstanding job defensively, and he probably won’t get the recognition he deserves on that one,” Pennell said.

“He muscled with Brockman a few times, he fronted him and kept him from the getting the ball. In stretches, he really took Brockman out of their offense.”

Onobun, a senior forward built like an 18-wheeler, did what he does, such as sending Washington guard Justin Dentmon sprawling to the floor on a screen, and then some.

He entered the game having made 6 of 18 free throws this season, but managed to find a way, using a lot of the iron, to coax in 3 of 4 foul shots in the final 3:15.

Onobun, with limited offensive skills, also came up big with 1 second left in the first half, when he drove the lane for a basket to cut Washington’s lead to 38-37. Not how UA drew it up, but it worked.

“The crowd loves him, so when he scored that basket, it was a big emotional lift. He really picked us up,” Pennell said.

“After the game, I went up to him – and Fendi is a deeply religious kid – and I told him, ‘God smiled on you tonight. You had your moment, and you’re going to have some more.’ ”

And it was another big moment for Fogg, whose confidence seems to be getting daily doses of Miracle-Gro.

He made all 11 of his shots – four from the field, seven from the free-throw line – to account for his 16 points.

His routine lately has been coming back to the gym late at night for extra shooting practice, including 300 makes from 3-point range.

“I’m definitely more confident,” said Fogg, who is averaging 5.8 points per game.

“At the beginning of the season, I didn’t really know what to expect. I was just pretty much nervous every game. Now, it’s going into every game knowing what to expect.”

Then there was Johnson, a sophomore guard who didn’t score for the first 38 minutes, 19 seconds of the game.

So, when the ball came to him in the right corner early in a possession after Washington trimmed a 16-point deficit to three points, he wasn’t going to be in launch mode, right?

“When he locked and loaded for that shot, I just about had a heart attack,” Budinger said.

Said Pennell: “It was one of those ‘No, no, no . . . yay!’ deals.”

It was a “yay” moment for several of the non-Big Three players. Even erstwhile starter Jamelle Horne had a nice 30-second stretch in which he jumped into the Washington bench for a steal and then came down and poured in a 3-pointer for his only basket.

If Arizona is going to have more moments, it’s guys like Fogg and Onobun and Johnson and Horne who have to make the most of their chances.

“When we have everybody contributing like we did tonight,” Budinger said, “we’re very tough to beat.”

Anthony Gimino’s e-mail: agimino@tucsoncitizen.com

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