Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Chase happier, and it shows Budinger steps up, tries to be more aggressive

Citizen Staff Writer

EUGENE, Ore. – Chase Budinger is playing with quiet confidence these days.

The 6-foot-7 junior forward is averaging 20.2 points, 9.0 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.2 steals in Arizona’s last five games.

It’s no surprise the Wildcats have won their last five to get back into the Pac-10 race. Budinger scored 25 points in Saturday’s 87-77 win at Oregon.

“That’s the guy,” said UA interim coach Russ Pennell, who must get the Wildcats (16-8, 6-5 Pac-10) ready next for USC on Thursday and No. 15 UCLA on Saturday at McKale Center.

What’s happened to Budinger?

The talent has always been there – he almost left for the NBA last season. But in the last 2 1/2 weeks, he’s been more active and aggressive and, well, just more content.

“I don’t know that he’s doing anything different,” said Pennell said. “I know we’re not coaching him any different. He’s comfortable – happy and comfortable in this setting.

“So much of being a good athlete is being happy.”

Budinger’s newfound joy – he was smiling and joking with his teammates at the end of Saturday’s game – has Arizona rolling with a little more than a month of the regular season left.

And that may be the key. As Budinger put it, “This is the time of the season where big players have to step up – and I have to step up for my team,” he said. “There’s a big stretch left, a tough stretch.”

Budinger is showing the way. Besides his surging scoring average – it’s now nearly 18 points a game – he has just six turnovers in 199 minutes in UA’s last five games.

Throw in his rebounding – he’s averaging 8.5 per game over the last seven games – and the San Diego native is reaching his potential.

“I’m just trying to be more aggressive,” he said. “And, on the defensive end, I’m being more active. I’m staying lower, anticipating passes. But I’m hitting the glass, attacking it more.”

He’s no longer settling for jump shots. He’s no longer waiting for the ball to come to him. He’s creating his own opportunities by driving to the basket.

“Chase does have a little fire to him,” said teammate Jordan Hill. “You can see he’s starting to get more fired up. He’s doing what he needs to do.”

Many point to the head-kicking incident he experienced Jan. 24 against Houston – Aubrey Coleman was suspended for the incident – as the trigger point to Budinger’s success. But he said the real reason is: Coaches went to him recently and said, “attack the basket.”

It couldn’t have been clearer than against Washington State nine days ago, he said. Then, he recalled, he was 1 for 12 to begin the game. He went 4 for 5 the rest of the way.

“That just energized me,” he said. “I realized that it’s better for me to attack the basket.”

It’s not like he hasn’t heard that before. He’s heard it countless times in his two-plus years at UA.

“Now, I’m just trying to mentally focus on it,” he said. “I do it before every game, putting that in (his mind) and getting in attack mode.”

It couldn’t have come at a better time for the Wildcats as they try to extend their streak of NCAA Tournament appearances to 25 years.

Steve Rivera’s e-mail:


Rivera: Happier Budinger has elevated his play




Pts. Reb. Ast.

Last 5 games 20.2 9.0 4.2

Season 17.7 6.6 3.3


Conf. All

School W L W L

UCLA 9 2 19 4

Washington 8 3 17 6

Arizona State 7 4 18 5

California 7 4 18 6

USC 6 4 15 7

ARIZONA 6 5 16 8

Stanford 4 7 14 7

Washington St. 4 7 12 11

Oregon State 4 7 10 12

Oregon 0 11 6 17

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