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What have you done for me lately?

Citizen Staff Writer
The Bounce



Interim coach Russ Pennell joked recently that he knew better than to believe he was a genius just because the University of Arizona men’s basketball team had a seven-game winning streak going.

He knew once the ride was over – meaning a loss, which happened at Arizona State in Tempe on Sunday – he’d be considered a bum by some fans.

Guess where Pennell is at in the minds of some as UA prepares for Thursday’s game at Washington State?

Good thing he doesn’t get on the Internet. According to some, he doesn’t have all the right moves. The Brotherhood of Second Guessers is alive and well.

“I pay no attention, and I don’t mean this disrespectfully, to the fans who say I do a good job because I pay no attention to that either,” Pennell said Monday, less than 24 hours after Arizona State beat UA 70-68 to halt UA’s win streak at seven and keep the Cats at 18 wins.

” . . . The one thing that fans never do is never give credit to the opponent or factor them in.”

To his credit, Pennell, one of the more likeable and approachable coaches you’ll ever meet, understands you can’t be everything to everybody. It’s just not possible.

“You take advice from what you’ve learned and your staff and boil it all down and make the best decision at the time, whether it’s in a practice plan or a timeout,” he said. “Then you stand by that, and you live with the consequences.

“Does it hurt when people say things? Sure, you’re human. But many times they don’t have all the information.”

Knowing what Pennell knows – having been the centerpiece of the team since being named the interim coach in late October – he said if someone had said the team would be 18-9 at this point, he’d “take it.”

That’s understandable. Wasn’t it just a month ago that UA was sitting at 11-8 and looking more dead than alive?

“It wasn’t like I didn’t think we couldn’t (be at this point),” he said. “One of the things I really wanted for these guys was to have success, to have this community embrace them and to have the opportunity to play in postseason.

“All those things are right in front of us. The table has been set.”

But there’s still plenty of work to be done. His job now, he said, is to make sure his players know they need to finish strong and there’s an opportunity “to do something real special.”

It’s a reason why he tried to dismiss the Arizona State game on Monday afternoon. For 80 seconds, before he took questions from reporters, Pennell said he’d speak of the tough loss just once because it was his intention of “moving forward.”

Then, he spoke about the short time this team has left together. He talked about how the season is rapidly ending and how he doesn’t want to miss any opportunity of success with this group.

“I’m having a blast with this team and I think they are having fun,” he said. “We want to enjoy it. To emphasize the negative or beat ourselves up is counterproductive, and (it) won’t get us where we want to go.”

“Now, it’s knowing about the urgency of every game.”

Now, Washington State is the biggest one of the year. It will be that way until – and if – UA is selected to the NCAA Tournament on March 15.

Steve Rivera’s e-mail: srivera@tucsoncitizen.com


Arizona (18-9, 8-6) at Washington St. (14-13, 6-9)

When: 7 p.m. Thursday


Radio: 1290 AM, 107.5 FM

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