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Cats shun Cinderella label; Lute embraces it

Citizen Staff Writer



Lute Olson said he’s “tremendously proud” of the Arizona men’s basketball team members and wishes them well.

“It’s a great story and I’m just so happy for the guys given everything they’ve had to go through,” former Wildcat coach Olson said Tuesday night in a telephone interview with the Citizen. “The coaching staff and what they’ve gone through (is great). I couldn’t be happier for them than what I am. It’s a Cinderella story.”

No. 12-seeded UA faces No. 1 Louisville at 4:07 p.m. Friday in a Sweet 16 matchup in Indianapolis.

After 24 years as head coach, Olson, who was out for the 2007-08 season because of health and personal problems, retired in October at the age of 74.

UA athletic director Jim Livengood then named Russ Pennell interim head coach after associate head coach Mike Dunlap declined the interim label.

Now, Arizona is the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005, when UA reached the Elite Eight before losing to Illinois in overtime.

Popular Pennell

If you’ve seen more and more of Pennell lately, there is a reason: he’s been on a number of national television programs and many more radio shows over the past last two days.

That shows what making it to the Sweet 16 means and what it does for the profile of the coach. Interim or not.

“I’m so happy to be doing my 34th interview today,” Pennell said jokingly as he sat down to address the local media Tuesday.

It’s been of mix of time-consuming events and fun gabfests as UA prepares for Louisville.

“I understand it,” he said, having been a former radio analyst for Arizona State games.

“This is my sixth NCAA Tournament as a coach, (so) you understand (the situation),” he said. “I wasn’t a head coach those other times, but I saw what the head coach was doing at the NCAA Tournament.

“You understand it comes with the territory. It’s just good to have the opportunity to be playing right now.”

Cinderella? Hardly

Arizona is the lowest seeded team left in the tournament by far.

But many national media types – those who have not fully paid attention to the Wildcat situation – say UA shouldn’t be considered a Cinderella because it has three pretty good players in Jordan Hill, Chase Budinger and Nic Wise.

And then there’s the long history of UA, a program that has gone to the tournament 25 consecutive times and been to four Final Fours.

So, is it a Cinderella or not?

“I think what happens, when you start thinking about Cinderella, a lot of times (people think) you’re inferior,” Pennell said. “Maybe you play in a lesser conference and you kind of come from nowhere.

“In many ways what has gone on with us, (maybe) we are a Cinderella. We’re going through a lot here, and we’ve come out pretty good. We weren’t sure if we were going to get in. There are story lines. Our talent level is good enough not to be considered a ‘quote, unquote’ Cinderella.”

UA junior Budinger said he doesn’t think UA should be considered one.

“As a team we feel we can play with anybody,” he said. “That label doesn’t come to our minds at all. We feel we are a good team. We feel that label shouldn’t be added to us. You get seeded as a 12 seed and that kind of labels you as a Cinderella.”

Déjà vu?

There are a number of media members who are trying to point out some similarities between this Arizona team and the Wildcat team that won the national title in 1997.

UA is in Indianapolis (where it won the title) and is facing Rick Pitino (who coached Kentucky then).

The arena will be different, however. Arizona played in the RCA Dome in 1997. It will play in Lucas Oil Stadium this weekend. The facility holds 63,000 spectators, many of whom will be Louisville fans.

Pennell understands that. He knows the Sweet 16 game will be more energized and louder than it was in Miami and American Airlines Arena, a venue that had little buzz to it.

“You’ll see a sea of red, but I’ll just tell our guys it’s UA red,” Pennell said of the number of Cardinals fans expected, since Louisville is just 114 miles from Indianapolis.

“They may not know the difference. Kansas has a great following. Michigan State is not that far away. We’ve played in hostile environments before, but it’s still a neutral site. You have to block that stuff out.”

Hill’s future

Hill is projected to be a lottery pick in the NBA draft this summer.

In talking about his career at UA, he said he’s come a long way since arriving here. It had a tone that seemed as if he’s played his last days at UA.

When asked about that tone, Hill wanted to make it clear that he hasn’t made a decision, although the next four months has come into his mind a few times.

“I don’t know yet, the season is not over yet,” he said. “I don’t mean to sound like that. We’ll see.”

Budinger has said the same thing the last few weeks of the season.

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

Cats shun Cinderella label; Lute embraces it

No. 1 Louisville (30-5) vs. No. 12 Arizona (21-13)

When: 4:07 p.m. Friday. What: Sweet 16 game. Where: Indianapolis. TV: CBS. Radio: 1290 AM, 107.5 FM. Line: Louisville by 9


Tar Heels’ Lawson feeling better



Connecticut vs. Purdue, 4:07 p.m.; Villanova vs. Duke, 6:57 p.m.


Arizona vs. Louisville, 4:07 p.m.; Gonzaga vs. North Carolina, 6:57 p.m.

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