|Arizona looking to snap 3-game NCAA tourney slide|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 18 March 2009 21:38|
Arizona, the 12th seed in the Midwest Region, will try to snap a three-game NCAA tourney skid when it meets fifth-seeded Utah on Friday night in Miami.
It is Arizona's longest NCAA drought since 1991-93, when the Wildcats lost to three lower seeds - including 14th-seeded East Tennessee State in 1992 and 14th-seeded Santa Clara in 1993.
Back then, Arizona was portrayed as an underachieving powerhouse. Now, the Wildcats (19-13) are the team with little to lose after squeaking into the brackets on Sunday.
In fact, many observers have wondered whether the Wildcats should have been sent to the NIT instead.
Interim coach Russ Pennell said he doesn't see the NCAAs as a chance to silence critics.
``It would be different if we had talked somebody into putting us in,'' he said. ``That is not what happened. We earned our way in.''
The matchup with the Utes (24-9), the Mountain West Conference tournament champions, does not appear favorable to the Wildcats.
For starters, it's in the Eastern time zone, where Arizona has fared miserably in the NCAAs. The Wildcats' last three NCAA tourney losses have come in Philadelphia (twice) and Washington.
Overall, Arizona is 3-7 in NCAA games played in the Eastern time zone, with two of the victories coming in the 1997 Final Four in Indianapolis, where the Wildcats won their lone national title.
And there's another bad omen: the Wildcats are 0-5 when they're lower than an eighth seed.
Pennell doesn't want his team dwelling on that sort of history.
``I want to focus on the now and what we need to do to move forward,'' he said.
Arizona struggled with inconsistency all season. But when the Wildcats' big three - Budinger, forward Jordan Hill and point guard Nic Wise - are clicking, Arizona can be a formidable foe.
The Wildcats defeated Kansas, Gonzaga, Washington, USC and UCLA - all NCAA entries.
our game and up to the level we are capable of playing it is tough to beat us. We have to bring that intensity.''
In some ways, though, simply reaching the NCAAs was a victory for the Wildcats, who have experienced unprecedented upheaval in the last two years.
It began when Hall of Famer Lute Olson went on a personal leave of absence before last season; Kevin O'Neill took over as interim coach and guided Arizona into the NCAA tournament, where the 10th-seeded Wildcats lost to seventh-seeded West Virginia 75-65.
Olson returned last spring, and O'Neill soon left the program. In October, Olson abruptly announced that he was retiring, and his doctor later revealed that Olson had suffered a stroke.
Pennell took over as interim coach, and Arizona's tourney hopes appeared dim after an 11-8 start. But the Wildcats went on a seven-game win streak, and that burst helped them survive a 1-5 tailspin at season's end.
Past Arizona teams took NCAA tourney trips for granted. This group hasn't.
``We appreciate it simply because everything we have been through the last couple of years,'' Wise said. ``I don't think any other team has had to go through what we have been through. We have persevered through everything. This season was drastically up and down. We could still have a couple of more wins, but we can't look back in the past.''