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Opportunity is golden for UA this week

Citizen Staff Writer



Arizona couldn’t ask for anything better. UA’s path to the NCAA Tournament looks like a potential glory road.

If the basketball season ended right now, right this second as you’re reading this, Arizona would be in the NCAA Tournament. Barely. That’s what I think.

Others would disagree.

As of Sunday evening, 10 of the many projections tracked online by The Bracket Project, had been updated with the latest predictions.

Five of those brackets included Arizona. Five did not.

I find the work of Jerry Palm on CBSSports.com most credible. Palm actually put the Wildcats rather comfortably into the tournament as a No. 10 seed.

Interesting. But whatever. Throw away all the educated guesswork. The bottom line is that Arizona, at 19-12 overall and 9-9 in the Pac-10, has borrowed all the trouble it can handle.

Interim coach Russ Pennell has tried, mostly successfully, to turn these Cats into a blue-collar group. Fellas, grab your hard hats, there’s work to be done.

The season continues for at least one more game. And it’s a beaut.

Thursday against Arizona State at high noon.


If the Wildcats lose, I think they’re out of the NCAAs for the first time since 1984.

If the Wildcats win, then lose in the Pac-10 semifinals, likely against top-seeded Washington, I think they’re at the mercy of the selection committee and how other bubble teams fare.

If the Wildcats win twice at the Pac-10 tournament in Los Angeles – never mind what would happen in the final – they’re golden.

Three good things about this week’s path at the Pac-10 tourney:

1. Hometown USC and UCLA are in the other half of the bracket.

2. Arizona has beaten potential semifinal opponent Washington and matches up well with the Huskies’ up-tempo game.

3. There is no program Arizona wants to beat more right now than ASU.

To be the UA team that extends the program’s streak of NCAA Tournament appearances to 25 is more than ample motivation, but it’s extra delicious that the game that could make or break The Streak comes against the Sun Devils.

“This will be a great opportunity for redemption,” said UA junior forward Chase Budinger.

Amen to that.

Arizona has lost four in a row to ASU for the first time since 1983. Each game has been ridiculously close, with each tilting to the Sun Devils, who continue to confound the Wildcats by making one or two more key plays down the stretch.

So, while ASU is perched on that four-game winning streak, it’s not as if Arizona fears the Devils as an obstacle that can’t be overcome.

“It is a huge game for us. A rival game,” Budinger said.

“The one thing we can’t do is look back at the past and see that they have beaten us four times in a row. It’s going to be on a neutral court and a fun atmosphere. It will be an exciting game.

“I know we’re going to come ready to play because there is a lot on the line for us.”

The past four games against Arizona State have been decided in overtime, by five points, six points and two points.

“I’m realistic enough to realize this game and the previous three could have easily gone the other way,” ASU coach Herb Sendek after a 70-68 victory in Tempe on Feb. 22. “And I would be sitting here, having lost the last four, and you’re saying, ‘What’s the matter, you stink.’ ”

It really has been a matter of a couple of shots per game.

In the past four meetings:

• Arizona has made 54 of 70 free throws. ASU has made 54 of 68.

• Arizona has made 24 of 78 three-point shots. ASU has made 24 of 83.

• Arizona has 125 rebounds. ASU has 131.

• Arizona has committed 50 turnovers. Arizona State has committed 49.

The only semisignificant difference, stats-wise, is that Arizona has made a woeful 36.9 percent of its shots (75 of 203) while ASU has made a less woeful 42.2 percent (84 of 199).

One team makes 75 baskets. The other 84. Just a couple of extra made shots per game.

“I feel confident we can beat them,” Budinger said.

Only the most important streak in UA history hangs in the balance.

Anthony Gimino’s e-mail: agimino@tucsoncitizen.com

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