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Analyst: Cats’ tourney hopes ‘hanging by thread’

Citizen Staff Writer



Chase Budinger said he and the Arizona Wildcats aren’t looking at this weekend as a “must-win” situation.

“If we look at it that way,” he said, “it might put too much pressure on certain people. We have to come into this game like we have every other game, and let it play out itself.”

Budinger & Co. might want to rethink that.

On Wednesday afternoon, Joe Lunardi, the creator of ESPN’s Bracketology, said UA has some work to do if it hopes to make it to its 25th consecutive NCAA Tournament in a couple of weeks.

At the moment, Lunardi has UA in the tournament – albeit the last team in.

“I went back and forth, back and forth,” Lunardi said on a conference call Wednesday.

He put the Wildcats in the tournament “more on the basis of their good wins,” he added.

UA has beaten Kansas, Gonzaga, Washington and UCLA – all ranked teams.

But he “closes his eyes” when he looks at the Wildcats’ Pac-10 road record of 2-9. Lunardi said UA’s Ratings Percentage Index is 37 overall, but only 106 in road games.

“I don’t think those two wins (at Oregon and Oregon State) are the kind that get you in the tournament,” he said. “To me, Arizona can’t really help itself too much here in the final weekend because they are at home.

They need a couple more wins in L.A. (in the Pac-10 Tournament). They are hanging by a thread.”

UA interim coach Russ Pennell said he doesn’t necessarily feel there is a heightened sense of urgency to get the wins in part because he feels the sense has been there all season. The circumstances are just different now.

“We certainly did (have the sense) when we were 11-8,” Pennell said. “What I hope is that we do have the same approach. It wouldn’t hurt (to win two games this weekend). You never know what’s going to happen in the Pac-10 tournament. I do think we need a couple more wins. We are running out of games.”

Defeating California on Thursday would be a start. Taking the Golden Bears more seriously may help. UA’s Chase Budinger admitted this week, UA may have been caught off guard by Cal in the first meeting, a 69-55 UA loss.

Guards Patrick Christopher and Jerome Randle torched UA for a combined 37 points, with Christopher scoring a career-high 23.

“They surprised us a lot,” Budinger said. “(They) were better than we thought of them. They gave it to us.”

The Bears gave it to a lot of people early. They went 15-2 to start the year, but have tempered their play a bit by going 3-4 since. Still, Cal is 21-8 overall and 8-8 in the conference, two games up on the Cats in the conference standings. UA was projected to finish fourth in the conference; Cal was eighth.

Cal coach Mike Montgomery said “conventional wisdom” may have been that Cal wouldn’t be as good.

“We’re probably better than people thought,” he said. “Cal was ninth last year. But we have some kids who can shoot the ball and are playing hard.”

That first weekend of conference games, when Cal knocked off UA and then Arizona State, was “huge,” Montgomery said. “That was when I thought we could compete favorably in this league.”


• Cal-UA breakdown, starting rosters, season stats

• Blog: NCAA investigation has been ongoing for Wildcats.

• Sound-off: Fans speak out about Lute Olson.

California (21-8, 10-6 Pac-10)

at Arizona (18-11, 8-8)

When: 8:30 p.m. Thursday TV: FSNA Radio: 1290 AM,107.5 FM

Note: FSNA will show Lute Olson’s halftime tribute about 9:20.

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