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Wildcats can still keep the streak alive

Citizen Staff Writer



Had someone said earlier this season to Arizona interim coach Russ Pennell that his team would still have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament this late in the year, he would have taken it.

Just a chance? In Tucson, isn’t the NCAA Tournament a birthright?

The Wildcats have made 24 straight NCAA Tournament trips. Pennell knew before the season that another trip was no sure thing.

It was just his honest evaluation of the team, which is 18-12 overall and 8-9 in Pac-10 play heading into Saturday’s regular-season finale against visiting Stanford.

“(Being honest) I’ve tried to do all year,” he said. “When we are all on the same page, playing with great effort and intensity, we’re a good team.”

UA has been great at times, beating Gonzaga, Kansas and UCLA. And at times it’s been mediocre, losing to Washington State and Stanford.

When you add in a lack of depth, Pennell said, “I don’t think we have the ingredients of past (UA) teams.”

The team has lost four straight after a seven-game winning streak, and sits on the NCAA Tournament bubble.

“If we don’t get there we have no one to blame but ourselves,” Pennell said.

Pennell realizes his team is “in a coin flip” on whether it’s in or out of the NCAA Tournament.

“I would be very proud of the University of Arizona to make the tournament this year,” Pennell said. “We’re going to do everything in our power to get that done.”

Going into Saturday’s game with Stanford, UA sits in a three-way tie for fifth place in the Pac-10 with USC and Washington State.

A win could secure UA the fifth seed in next week’s Pac-10 tournament. But UA could be a sixth or seventh seed if it loses.

That could mean the Wildcats would need at least a couple of wins in the Pac-10 Tournament to be considered for the NCAA Tournament.

Pennell feels his team will bounce back from Thursday’s 83-77 loss to California. Borrowing a golf term, he says UA is “running out of mulligans.”

The Wildcats got 28 points from Chase Budinger, but blew an 11-point first-half lead in the defeat.

“We need to get a couple more wins,” Pennell said. “We ought to be excited about the opportunity. It’s senior day, it’s our last game of the year.

“It’s been a characteristic to this team all year. I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be (on Saturday).”

Stanford is coming off an upset win over Arizona State on Thursday. The Cardinal beat the No. 21 Sun Devils 74-64 behind Landry Fields’ 20 points.

The Cardinal beat UA 76-60 in Palo Alto, Calif., on Jan. 4. Fields scored 19 points in that game.

Anthony Goods leads Stanford (17-11, 6-11) in scoring at 15.9 points per game.

Wildcats still have chance to keep streak alive

Stanford (17-11, 6-11)

at Arizona (18-12, 8-9)

When: 5:30 p.m. Saturday TV: FSNA Radio: 1290 AM,107.5 FM

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

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