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20th win key for Cats

Citizen Staff Writer



One possession here, one possession there. The Arizona basketball team knows that was the difference in not beating Arizona State this season.

Key word: not.

ASU, its zone defense and James Harden had something to do with it, too. If UA had one more possession for either game . . . imagine the possibilities.

“But that’s basketball,” UA’s Nic Wise said heading into Thursday’s first-round Pac-10 Tournament game against ASU at noon in Los Angeles.

The losses stick with the Wildcats because they know they were so close to getting a win against the Sun Devils. Instead, Arizona was swept for the second consecutive season.

“We’re looking for revenge,” said Wise. “We let two slip away down the stretch for both games. We are a better team (than that); we just have to pull it out in the end. We don’t want to lose to a team three times in a row.

“We’re looking for that opportunity for one more chance.”

Arizona, on the NCAA Tournament bubble, is fortunate to get another crack at ASU. A win over the No. 23-ranked Sun Devils could help the Cats sew up their 25th straight NCAA bid.

UA might need another Pac-10 tourney win for insurance, but interim coach Russ Pennell said the most pressing matter is to get to 20 wins first.

“We’re hoping the body of work (eventually) speaks for itself,” Pennell said about the NCAA Tournament.

The Cats, however, must find a way to get past the Sun Devils. It may take more than stopping Harden and big man Jeff Pendergraph. UA also must contain outside shooters Derek Glasser and Rihards Kuksiks.

“We match up well,” Pennell said. “People say it’s hard to beat a team three times, but I never quite understood that (because a team) should be very comfortable in beating us a third time. The games were close so that gives us confidence.”

ASU coach Herb Sendek is well aware of UA’s confidence, despite the Cats losing four straight to the Devils. He said so Tuesday in a teleconference previewing the game.

Last year, ASU won in overtime, 64-59, despite UA leading by five with 90 seconds left. ASU won again, 59-54, despite Jerryd Bayless scoring 39 points and UA jumping out to a 22-6 lead.

Then came this season, when ASU beat UA in Tucson 53-47 after a questionable call from Dave Libby on an apparent illegal screen by Jordan Hill.

In the second game, ASU jumped out to an early halftime lead only to see UA storm back and take a lead. But ASU stayed strong and won 70-68. Wise mishandled the ball during a last-ditch attempt to win.

Now comes Thursday’s game on a neutral floor – Staples Center in Los Angeles.

“We still feel we have something to prove to ourselves,” Wise said.

The proof will come Thursday – if UA can manage to finish a play or two.

“We have to be ready for them,” said UA’s Hill. “They’re a good team. They can be beat. We can beat them. We have to go in with that mentality to attack them first (and) be aggressive.”

• UA-ASU breakdown, starting rosters, 2C

• UA season stats, 2C

• UA notebook, blog, 2C

Arizona (19-12) vs. No. 23 Arizona State (22-8)

When: noon Thursday

TV: FSNA Radio: 1290 AM,107.5 FM

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