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Cats’ fight reaches new heights

Citizen Staff Writer
Scrappy UA makes 41 free throws, tops Huskies



You want drama?

Welcome to Arizona men’s basketball, where every game seems to bring a dose – or two – of suspense in the final minutes.

Thursday night was no different as UA held on to beat No. 23 Washington 106-97 in a wild game at McKale Center.

“It’s a huge win for us,” said UA junior Chase Budinger. “They were in first place in the Pac-10. We’re pretty far down. This was huge. It gives us the confidence we can play with anybody in the Pac-10.”

UA is 13-8 overall and 3-5 in the league heading into Saturday’s game against Washington State.

Washington fell back into a first-place tie with UCLA at 6-2. UW is 15-5 overall.

The 106 points was the most for Arizona since the Wildcats beat Arizona State 106-81 in 2004.

“This is an Arizona team that feels that they are better than their record indicates, and they are,” UW coach Lorenzo Romar said. “They came out and showed it tonight.”

Arizona, despite hitting only three field goals in the final 11:18, pulled it out.

The Wildcats nailed 41 of 51 free throws, the most ever made and shot in McKale Center history.

“It was key for us,” UA junior Chase Budinger said. “We’ve been getting extra work in the last couple of weeks. It really pays off.”

UA went 34 of 40 from the foul line in the second half, which kept Washington from getting the lead in the final 17 minutes.

Arizona interim coach Russ Pennell had been curious to see how his team would respond after last weekend’s improbable come-from-behind overtime win against Houston.

“I’m happy; the practices have been very good,” Pennell said. “I felt real good about our preparation. I thought we’d play well tonight. I would have been shocked had we not played the way we did tonight.”

UA responded with a gutty – and another edge-of-your seat – performance against the Huskies, who this week are in the Top 25 for the first time this season.

Against Houston, Arizona came back from a 10-point deficit in the final minute to force overtime.

“I just didn’t want it to be déjà vu or flip-flopped,” Budinger said, referring to the team possibly losing after having a big lead. “But our team did a great job at the end. We composed ourselves very well.”

Pennell was more relaxed “because I knew they would get to a point where they’d have to start fouling us,” he said of UA. “And we were shooting our fouls pretty well. I just thought we were playing smart enough basketball. I never felt we were in trouble.”

Pennell & Co. can thank UA’s Big Three for returning to early-season form. Guard Nic Wise (career-high 29 points) was as pesky as ever; Budinger (25 points) stepped up like many Wildcat followers always thought he was capable of doing and Jordan Hill (18 points and a team-high nine rebounds) came through again, despite foul trouble.

“I thought they played well; Jordan played well despite his foul trouble,” Pennell said. “In the first half, he really got us going. Nic Wise had a huge game.

“The thing I like about Nic is that he’s playing aggressively when we need him to be. He’s got a great feel and not forcing shots. Chase is starting to find a rhythm.”

Hill eventually fouled out with 3:23 left.

Wise was said to be suffering from body cramps after the game, and was not made available to the media.

“They have a lot of fight,” UW’s Jon Brockman said. “They’re a good team and we know that. They have a lot of guys who can score points. We gave them some confidence, and they ended up having a lot of fun out there.”

UA played so well that when Hill picked up his fourth foul with 14:40 left and Arizona clinging to a 51-48 lead, the Wildcats promptly went on a 15-5 run to go up 66-53.

“Once Jordan went out, Nic and I knew we had to step up – and that’s what we did,” Budinger said. “We just started to attack the rim and got to the free throw line.”

Brockman had 27 points and 16 rebounds to lead the Huskies, who led 38-37 at halftime.

But UA put up 69 points in the second half in looking like it did earlier this year in wins over Gonzaga and Kansas.

Asked jokingly if he’s aged in the last few weeks because of all the close games, Pennell said not really.

“If you’ve been around long enough, you’ll see a lot of different things,” he said. “It’s been exciting, having some games we should have won but didn’t.

“We won one against Houston where we were dead in the water. And we beat the No. 23 ranked team. What I’m trying to do is stay on course.”


Washington State (12-8, 4-4) at Arizona 13-8, 3-5)

When: 11 a.m. Saturday

TV: CBS Radio: 1290 AM, 107.5 FM


Zane Johnson’s 3-pointer with 1:41 left gave the Wildcats a 94-88 lead after Washington had cut a 16-point deficit down to three.


14 free throws by Nic Wise in 14 attempts, tying a school record for percentage in a game. He finished with 29 points.

16 points by Kyle Fogg. He was perfect for the night, going 4 for 4 from the floor and 7 for 7 from the line.

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