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Showdown in Tempe

Citizen Staff Writer



For the Arizona men’s basketball team, the preparation will be the same.

The key will be in the execution against Arizona State on Sunday when the teams meet in Tempe.

Arizona (18-8, 8-5) will need to shoot better than 29.8 percent from the floor in what UA’s Chase Budinger called a “huge game” for both teams.

“Mentally and physically we’ll prepare the same (as last time); we’ll just hope that we can shoot better,” said Budinger, who admitted the last game between the two teams was one of the uglier ones in which he’s played.

“Maybe we shot the ball (from the perimeter) too much instead of attacking the basket.”

For the past seven games – just after UA’s 53-47 heartbreaking loss to ASU at McKale Center last month in which it shot 29.8 percent – the Wildcats have done just that. They’ve attacked and performed better in this stretch than they have all season.

The mood is happy for UA and the atmosphere is light, even if the team was thrown a small curve Friday when seldom-used freshmen Garland Judkins and D.J. Shumpert were suspended for Sunday’s game because they violated unspecified “team obligations.”

Earlier in the week, Budinger, who has been playing some of his best basketball while at UA, said the team’s wild ride to this point was enjoyable.

“Anytime you are winning it’s fun,” Budinger said. “This is what basketball players look for.”

Particularly at this time of season.

One of the NCAA Selection Committee’s go-to signs in picking a team is how it performs in the final 12 games. UA is 7-0 with five regular season games left.

But there’s no time to get complacent.

“Our record still shows that we can’t be cocky,” Budinger said. “It’s still 18-8. It’s not that impressive of a record. We still have some work to do.”

Said UA interim coach Russ Pennell: “I just hope we continue with the effort that we’ve been able to produce the last few weeks.”

Could UA’s 25th consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament be in the cards? The players are trying not to think about it.

“We don’t concentrate too much on it, but we take it as motivation just to keep the streak alive,” Budinger said.

Just like the winning streak that the Wildcats are riding. UA hasn’t been on such a streak since it won 12 straight at the beginning of the 2006-07 season.

“We’re glad we went on the winning streak and glad we have it,” Budinger said. “But we’re not focusing on it.”

The main focus has been Arizona State, a team that has won three consecutive games against the Wildcats.

ASU hasn’t won more than three straight against UA since the 1982-83 season when it finished off a nine-game streak in the series against the Wildcats.

“They are holding the big stick and we’re just trying to go in there and get one back,” Budinger said.

In last month’s win over UA, the Sun Devils shot 28.6 percent from the floor but managed to win thanks to 21 points from James Harden and 13 from Derek Glasser.

Harden leads the Pac-10 in scoring at 21.3 points per game for the Sun Devils, who are a half-game out of first in the league, behind Washington.

Budinger said he hopes ASU “disregards” UA, but knows that isn’t likely.

“Hopefully we can catch them by surprise,” he said, “thinking that this will be an easy one.”

Arizona (18-8, 8-5) at No. 14 Arizona St. (20-5, 9-4)

When: 8 p.m. Sunday

TV: FSNA. Radio: 1490 AM

> Full-page preview, with rosters. 4C

> More on UA suspensions, 4C

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