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It’s a familiar story line for Budinger, Cats

Citizen Staff Writer
‘We are in control of our own destiny.’ CHASE BUDINGER, junior forward, on Arizona’s NCAA Tournament chances



Arizona’s Chase Budinger has seen this movie before: Arizona on the edge.

Oh, the suspense.

This season is just the sequel to the biggest question most of Tucson wants to know. Will the Wildcats – who beat Stanford on Saturday 101-87 to finish 19-12 and 9-9 in Pac-10 play – extend their NCAA Tournament streak to 25?

In six days, we’ll all know. Selection Sunday might as well be Stunner Sunday. Either way.

To keep alive the streak, UA likely needs a win over Arizona State on Thursday at noon – and possibly a second win for insurance – in the Pac-10 Tournament in Los Angeles.

“I was talking to someone in the locker room and was telling him how stressful it was last year,” Budinger said. “We watched and we were the second-to-last team to be mentioned.”

The Cats earned a No. 10 seed – their lowest since 1987 – after going 8-10 in Pac-10 play last season. They won one game in the Pac-10 Tourney. Budinger felt, without question, Arizona was good enough to go the NCAAs after playing without star Jerryd Bayless for a while and enduring Lute Olson’s leave of absence.

A season later, UA is here again – left wondering.

“It is what it is,” Budinger said. “But we are in control of our own destiny.”

If UA wins Thursday – in its third meeting with ASU this season – Budinger believes UA will get in. He figures 20 wins and a victory over another quality opponent should do it.

The Wildcats, however, have yet to figure out ASU the last two years, having lost four straight.

“Get that (victory) and I’m pretty confident (about getting into the NCAAs), but you lose and you never know,” Budinger said.

After UA fell to California on Thursday, ESPN.com Bracketologist Joe Lunardi removed UA from his tournament selections, adding Friday in a nationwide Internet chat that even if UA beat Stanford on Saturday he didn’t feel it would be enough.

Lunardi changed his mind and had Arizona as one of his “last four in” on Saturday night.

“One game at a time,” said UA’s Fendi Onobun about Thursday’s game against ASU. “We have another opportunity, another bullet. It’s a big game for us, but it’s the only one we’re looking at.”

Onobun, a senior, is a veteran of UA’s wait-to-see-what-happens postseason hopes.

In his freshman year, UA stumbled into a No. 8 seed in Philadelphia, eventually beating No. 9 Wisconsin (94-75) before losing to No. 1 Villanova 82-76 in the second round.

His sophomore year, Arizona became a No. 8 seed despite doubts of getting in, but the Cats lost to No. 9 Purdue 72-63 in New Orleans.

Then came last year, in Washington D.C., where the No. 10 Cats fell to No. 6 West Virginia 75-65 in the first round.

Now, if UA even hopes to be any kind of seed – even a No. 12 would sound pretty good to fans – the Wildcats must first beat ASU.

“We’ll have our work cut out for us,” UA interim coach Russ Pennell said. “We’ll have to have a good week of preparation for them.”

Otherwise, it’ll be the last week – at least when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. It could be NIT for UA otherwise.

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


• Gimino column: Cats’ path in Pac-10 tourney ideal. 1A

• Bagga’s 3-point shot caps emotional UA win over Stanford. 4C

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