TUCSON, Ariz. – When you think of the University of Arizona men’s basketball team, your mind probably fixates on the Wildcats’ big three, a trio of juniors who make the UA offense go.
There’s Nic Wise, cat quick and coming off a 29-point effort against the Washington Huskies when the 5-foot-11 point guard from Texas got into the paint at will. There’s 6-7 forward Chase Budinger, who surprised most everyone in Tucson by not entering the NBA draft last spring. And there’s 6-10, 235-pound post Jordan Hill, who leads the Cats in points (18.4 per game), rebounds (a Pac-10 best 11.8) and emotion.
It’s a nearly unstoppable trio. But limiting them will be Washington State’s primary goal this morning, when it travels to McKale Center for the regionally televised (CBS) game.
“You’ve got to make them earn it,” Washington State coach Tony Bennett said Friday after running the Cougars through practice at McKale. “It’s my broken-record response, but it’s true.”
It will be if the Cougars want to extend their undefeated Pac-10 road start (3-0) and build off Thursday night’s 65-55 upset of 14th-ranked Arizona State.
Arizona (13-8, 3-5) is coming off an upset of its own, rallying past Pac-10-leading Washington 106-97, by converting 41 of 51 free throws, both McKale Center records.
“I don’t think we can keep up, trying to score 100 points,” Bennett said.
A combined total in that area would be more to Bennett’s liking, but that will be tough even for WSU’s defense, ranked first in the nation in points allowed at 52.6 per game.
Of the big three, it’s Hill, who dominated the boards in both of Arizona’s wins vs. WSU last season, who worries Bennett.
“I look at Hill as kind of a sleeping giant,” Bennett said. “If he gets awoken, if you get him ornery or he all of sudden comes to life, he can take over a game.
“He’s one of the more talented centers in the country.”
“They are kind of the two big bodies in the Pac-10,” said Taylor Rochestie, referring to Hill and 6-10, 250-pound Aron Baynes, who will match up with UA’s center. “When they go against each other, they know it. There’s going to be a lot of banging going around.
“It’s one of those times you’re happy to be a guard, beating screens.”
But Rochestie remembers last year’s 76-64 defeat in Tucson – at that point the worst in Bennett’s Pac-10 career – as mainly a long-range assault, with the Wildcats hitting 12 of 21 3-pointers, including four by Budinger and three by Wise.
“Last year when we came in here, it just seemed like they couldn’t miss,” said the senior, who didn’t have a turnover in the two games with UA last season. “When you have shooters that can hit from basically anywhere – players like Budinger, Nic Wise, (Zane) Johnson – they can get it going at any time.”
WSU (12-8, 4-4) is coming off a game like that, as Klay Thompson connected on 8 of 10 3-pointers in Tempe.
The Cougars also continued their remarkable free-throw shooting display, converting 13 of 14 against the Sun Devils. They’ve hit 62 of their last 64 attempts, stretching back to the end of the Oregon State game and are shooting a Pac-10 best 78.5 percent from the line.
“We have to figure out ways to generate offense,” Rochestie said. “Whether it’s Klay going for 28, whether it’s Baynes … or whether somebody else steps us, Daven (Harmeling) could start catching fire and hitting. We just have to find a way to generate offense.”
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