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UA point guard has been key to resurgence

Citizen Staff Writer



Arizona’s Nic Wise isn’t the statistical leader in any category in the Pac-10.

But he’s in the top 10 in several categories, and is on the opponents’ radar.

Stop Wise and you have a chance to beat Arizona.

Of course, there’s Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill to contend with, but Wise is a major reason UA is riding a five-game winning streak and finds itself back in the NCAA Tournament hunt.

Arizona hosts USC at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at McKale Center.

“Coaches in this league,” USC coach Tim Floyd said this week, “know how good Nic is. I know he isn’t talked about in the same breath as (UCLA’s Darren) Collison or (Washington’s) Isaiah Thomas or (California’s) Jerome Randle, but he’s in the same league as all those guys.

“When we were fortunate to beat them a year ago, he wasn’t in the lineup in Tucson. He’s a guy in our league who guys have a hard time staying between him and the basket. He makes a lot of the right plays.”

Wise is averaging 13.7 points (15th in the league) and 4.8 assists (fifth). He’s shooting 40.7 percent from 3-point range (10th) and 85.5 percent from the free throw line (sixth).

With seven regular season games left, Arizona needs every drop of what Wise gives if it hopes of having any chance of making the NCAA Tournament.

His five-game absence a season ago because of a knee injury almost cost UA a trip to the Big Dance. He was that important.

This year, he’s logging 36.4 minutes a game, third in the Pac-10 behind Budinger (37.2) and Washington State’s Taylor Rochestie (36.8).

“I pretty much was told when Brandon (Jennings) wasn’t coming that I’d pretty much be playing 40 minutes a game,” Wise said. “I needed to make sure I’d take care of my knee.”

So far, so good, give or take a bump or a bruise here and there.

“I’m good,” Wise said when asked of any injuries. “I’m still holding strong. They’re not working us hard in practice, so we are still fresh in the game. That’s a good thing.”

In turn, Wise has responded with some of his better games the past few weeks.

Against Houston, he had a then career-high-tying 23 points in 39-plus minutes as UA rallied to win in overtime.

He followed it with a career-high 29 points in a victory against Washington.

His lone trouble spot – if you can call it that – was a six-point outing against Washington State. But UA still won that game thanks to his leadership.

In another 40-minute game, he had 14 points against Oregon State, hitting three clutch 3-pointers to help give UA the win last week.

Against Oregon on Saturday, he had 17 points in 40 minutes.

His timing couldn’t have been any better. It’s coincided with Budinger’s rise and Hill’s consistency.

“You always want to be playing your best ball at the end of the season,” Wise said. “That’s what we’re trying to do now, come together now.”

For Wise, it’s been a bookend season.

He started the season off well, playing like the team’s most outstanding player. Then he hit a bad stretch where he had 32 combined points in five games, going 11 for 37 from the field during that stretch.

“That just happens,” he said. “The same thing happened to Chase (recently). You gotta just keep fighting through it.”

He has. UA interim coach Russ Pennell said players will have “ups and downs but the opponent will have something to do with that, too.”

Pennell said there was a stretch when Wise wasn’t shooting enough, taking just five or six shots a game. That has changed.

“He’s more aggressive offensively,” Pennell said. “He’s looking for his shot more. He has a real good feel of when to shoot and when not to. He doesn’t take many bad shots. He may over-penetrate, but he’s not taking a bad shot.”

And he’s not showing any signs of fatigue.

“His conditioning has been good and he’s held up well,” Pennell said.

Budinger said Wise has been “stepping up his game and especially at the end of games, making clutch shots. He’s a heck of a competitor.”

But that, too, has been his reputation to coaches.

“I’ve always been impressed with Nic Wise and his ability to be a winner,” said Washington coach Lorenzo Romar. “He does whatever it takes to be a winner.”

And right now, he has Arizona winning.

USC (15-7, 6-4) at Arizona (16-8, 6-5)

When: 8:30 p.m. Thursday

TV: FSNA Radio: 1290 AM, 107.5 FM


Nic Wise’s stats during UA’s five-game winning streak

Opponent Min. Pts. Ast.

Houston 39 23 2

Washington 37 29 8

Washington State 40 6 4

Oregon State 40 14 5

Oregon 40 17 7

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