TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) -Arizona interim coach Russ Pennell has a simple answer to questions about whether the Wildcats deserve an NCAA tournament berth.
``I think the best thing for us to do is to win ballgames,'' Pennell said Monday at McKale Center in Tucson. ``I know this: if we keep winning, they can't keep us out.''
The flip side is that one more loss might keep them out.
The make-or-break game could be Thursday's Pac-10 tournament opener, when the Wildcats (19-12, 9-9 Pac-10) face No. 23 Arizona State in Staples Center in Los Angeles.
A victory would seemingly lock up Arizona's 25th straight NCAA berth, extending the nation's longest active streak. A loss might not keep the Wildcats out, but it could create some unwanted drama on Sunday, when the brackets are revealed.
Last year, Arizona sweated out the selections before drawing a 10th seed. The Wildcats don't want to be in that position again.
ey reported to practice on Monday.
``They can be beat,'' said Arizona forward Jordan Hill, who averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds against ASU. ``We can beat them. We have to go in with that mentality to attack them first (and) be aggressive.''
Thursday's game will be the latest chapter in what has suddenly become a hot rivalry in the desert.
After decades of Wildcat dominance, change came when Hall of Famer Lute Olson left Arizona and Herb Sendek arrived in Tempe.
Olson went 43-6 against ASU, which went through seven coaches in that span. The Wildcats' four-game losing streak against their rivals coincides with Olson taking a personal leave of absence a year ago. He retired in October.
Sendek is 4-2 against the Wildcats since taking over at ASU three seasons ago.
The long-downtrodden Sun Devils would relish ending Arizona's long tourney streak, second only to North Carolina's run of 27 NCAA appearances in a row from 1975-2001. It could be payback for last December's Territorial Cup football game, in which the Wildcats beat ASU to deny the Sun Devils a minor bowl berth.
Basketball is Arizona's signature sport. But the Sun Devils winning streak against the Wildcats is the longest since a nine-game run from 1979-83.
h earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors, as did Hill and teammate Chase Budinger. Arizona point guard Nic Wise also landed on the second team.
Both games between the schools went down to the wire this season.
On Jan. 21 in McKale Center, the Sun Devils beat the Wildcats 53-47 in an ugly game in which both teams shot below 30 percent from the floor.
Harden scored 17 of his 21 points in the second half, and ASU point guard Derek Glasser hit a pair of big 3-point shots in the final minutes.
The Sun Devils completed the regular-season sweep with a 70-68 victory on Feb. 22 at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe. ASU blew a 17-point lead but survived on a pair of late 3-pointers from long-range gunner Rihards Kuksiks.
``We're looking for revenge,'' Wise said. ``We let two slip away down the stretch for both games. We are a better team. We just have to pull it out in the end. We don't want to lose to a team three times in a row.''
It's long been said that it's difficult for a team to beat another team three times in one season. Pennell doesn't believe it.
``I'm thinking, well, why? If you beat them twice, you probably feel like you could beat them a third time,'' he said. ``I wish that was true. Then I'd feel a whole lot better about Thursday.''
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