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Cats press for success

Citizen Staff Writer



MIAMI – Arizona’s Big Three – Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill and Nic Wise – have never participated in a second round of the NCAA tournament.

They can scratch that off their to-do list.

The trio combined for 66 points and played strong pressure defense as UA defeated Utah 84-71 in the Midwest Regional first round here at America Airlines Arena on Friday night.

The Wildcats will face upstart Cleveland State at 11:40 a.m. Sunday, with the winner going to the Sweet 16 in Indianapolis to face Louisville or Sienna on Friday.

“I never want to lose,” said Wise, who finished with a season-high-tying 29 points, 21 coming in the second half. “We’ve lost in the first round every year since I’ve been here. I didn’t want that to happen again. This is what we’re supposed to do (advance).”

This time, the Cats did not fold down the stretch as they had done four of their last five games after having a halftime lead. But UA, which led 34-29 at the half Friday, still needed a 20-9 run in the final 4:30 to pull away for the victory.

The Cats, one of the last teams into the field of 65, showed naysayers they deserve to be in the NCAA tourney despite a weak road record. They advanced to the second round for the second time since 2006, when they lost to Villanova after beating Wisconsin.

“We felt we belonged,” said Budinger, who held an ice pack on his left shin. Wise also iced his lip after the physical game.

UA interim coach Russ Pennell and the Cats must prepare for Cleveland State, which routed No. 4 seeded Wake Forest 84-69, but they will savor Friday’s win.

“We’re enjoying this and having fun,” Pennell said. “This has been an incredible ride.”

The win moves UA to 20-13 overall. It didn’t come easily despite being one of Arizona’s better defensive performances.

Utah coach Jim Boylen said his team was prepared for what his team experienced, which was an all-out full-court Velcro-like look by the Wildcats.

“This is not the same team I saw on tape the last 10-12 games,” Boylen said.

That was UA’s intention. It ratcheted its pressure defense up a bit – and it showed. The strategy was to get Utah to play at UA’s pace, no matter what.

“(The Utes) are one of the better tempo teams west of the Mississippi,” said UA associate head coach Mike Dunlap. “If you let them play in the 60s, they are like Washington State. We gave a full commitment to our 1-2-1-1 press and we were going to trap out.

“We wanted to create anarchy.”

Utah looked like it hadn’t seen that type of press all season.

“We wanted to hit them as hard as we could,” Dunlap said.

For most of the second half, Arizona couldn’t shake the Utes. It’s been a problem all season for the Cats.

“I thought we got fatigued,” Pennell said. “We’re not a real deep team and the guys we bring off the bench don’t play heavy minutes. I think the adrenaline and the travel caught up with us. But we got through that and re-established ourselves.”

After Utah closed the gap to 64-62 with 4:30 left, UA slowly and methodically was able to pull away. Hill scored on a put-back dunk. Kyle Fogg followed with two free throws and Hill scored again. Arizona was able to extend its lead to 70-62 with 2:58 left.

Budinger then drove to the hoop for a bucket, and Wise hit two free throws to make it 74-63. After a Utah jumper, Wise sank two more free throws and Hill sealed it with a dunk to make it 78-65 with 1:03 left.

The Wildcats appeared to play fast and loose with the ball, taking seemingly unnecessary chances late in the game. But Utah couldn’t hit baskets in the final five minutes.

“We didn’t quit and we hung in there,” Boylen said. “You’ve got to give them credit. They played well.”

On Thursday, Boylen called UA’s Big Three the “three-headed monster.” On Friday, Utah had no solution for the trio.

Budinger added 20 points. And Hill, who strapped ice to his left ankle afterward, had 17 points and 13 rebounds. Fogg finished with 12 points.

In the first half, Budinger and Arizona didn’t feel any pressure as UA took a 34-29 halftime lead. Earlier in the half, they led by 12 points.

Credit the full-court press for UA’s success.

The Wildcats helped create 14 Utah turnovers, making the Utes look out of sync for most of the first half. Utah had six turnovers in the first six minutes as UA jumped out to a 12-4 lead. Utah came into the game averaging 13.6 turnovers a game.

It also helped UA that Utah’s 7-foot-2 center Luke Nevill picked up his second foul 3 1/2 minutes into the game. The Utes started 1 for 10 from the field.

Utah didn’t hit its second shot until 12:21 when Nevill, who had re-entered the game 16 seconds earlier, got a dunk after an offensive rebound.

Nevill picked up his fourth foul midway through the second half. The Mountain West Conference player of the year finished with only 12 points and six rebounds.

“We were getting the shots that we wanted,” the Australian center said. “We were shooting the ball great the day before. It just wasn’t our night. The balls were good shots, they were bouncing in and out. If you take them again, they might go in.”


With UA leading 64-62, Jordan Hill scored on a dunk with 4:32 left to spark a 10-1 run to give the Cats a 74-63 edge with 1:30 remaining.



Utah turnovers – 7 more than its average – caused by Arizona’s full-court pressure defense

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