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Wildcats peaking at right time

Citizen Staff Writer

EUGENE, Ore. – It isn’t often a basketball coach uses the word “spry” and “crescendo” when talking about his basketball team. But that’s where Arizona interim coach Russ Pennell is at these days.

He’s feeling good because the Wildcats have won four in a row and are sitting at 15-8 overall and 5-5 in the Pac-10 heading into Saturday’s game at last-place Oregon.

UA hasn’t won four consecutive games this late in the season since the 2004-05 season, when it was a shot or two from reaching the Final Four before losing to Illinois.

Not that this year’s team is nearly that good, of course. Gone are the days of having talent like Salim Stoudamire, Channing Frye and Hassan Adams.

But UA’s core group and the understudies have played well enough to give UA a chance at making the NCAA Tournament for the 25th consecutive time.

That looked all but impossible when the Wildcats were in danger of falling to 11-9 before a miraculous rally to beat Houston.

UA’s Ratings Percentage Index, now at 59, is up from 62 earlier this week. That number must continue to climb.

A win Saturday would push UA over .500 for the first time in Pac-10 play this year.

Pennell was pleased with the team’s practice Friday, saying it was “crisp and focused.”

“When things are going well and you’re winning, it’s always easier to go to work,” Pennell said. “Our guys have done a great job of being workmanlike in everything they are doing. There is a real positive energy around our team.”

It showed Friday. Chase Budinger was bantering with the local media. He has become that relaxed.

Others have seemed to follow, as UA has become a different team the past few weeks.

“It should be that way (with) everyone trying to have that crescendo in February,” Pennell said.

Pennell said freshmen are no longer playing like freshmen, schemes are finally being implemented better and roles are being taken more seriously.

“You want to have things click at this time of the year,” Pennell said.

After Thursday’s 56-53 win at Oregon State, Budinger said he felt UA had never been better this season in terms of chemistry and togetherness.

Pennell feels the same way.

“They care about each other and want to do well,” he said. “They’re not concerned about who gets the credit, but who gets the job done. We’ve got to that point and have taken and run with it.”

How fast they run Saturday might be determined by the sagging Ducks, a team that has yet to win a game in the Pac-10 (0-10).

Pennell said the Ducks are pressing and trapping more to try to speed up the tempo.

They are trying anything and everything to get kick-started again. Oregon (6-16) hasn’t won since Dec. 29 when it beat Long Beach State.

“I certainly don’t feel they’ve quit or given up,” Pennell said. “They are young enough where they won’t let that happen to them.

“I don’t look at their record at all. I know what they are in Mac Court. I’ve seen it. They won’t trick us. We’ll be ready to go.”

Steve Rivera’s e-mail:



Arizona (15-8, 5-5) at Oregon (6-16, 0-10)

When: 1:30 p.m. Saturday

TV: ABC Radio: 1290 AM, 107.5 FM

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