Game Notes: March 3, 2009

March 3, 2009

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Date: Thursday, March 5, 2009

Time: 8:30 p.m. MST

Location: Olson Court, McKale Center (14,545), Tucson, Ariz.

Radio: Wildcat Radio Network (Brian Jeffries/Ryan Hansen)

TV: FSN (BarryTompkins/Dan Belluomini)

GAME DATA: Arizona (18-11, 8-8 Pac-10) closes the regular season with a two-game homestand beginning Thursday night vs. California (21-8, 10-6 Pac-10) in McKale Center ... Since joining the Pac-10 Conference for the 1978-79 season, Arizona has closed the regular season at home 14 times, and on those occasions the program has tallied a 20-5 (.800) record ... Regardless of the outcome this weekend, Arizona has already improved its record in Pac-10 home gams of late, as the club is 6-1 in McKale Center this season. The Wildcats were 5-4 in 2006-07 and 4-5 last season in its nine league home games.

THE RANKINGS: Arizona remains unranked in the March 2 edition of both polls. UA was out of the polls to start the season for the first time since the 2001-02 season and just the second time since the start of the 1987-88 campaign.

ARIZONA INTERIM HEAD COACH Russ Pennell . . . is in his first season at the University of Arizona and his first overall as a college head coach with a career record of 18-11 (.621) ... He assumed the interim coaching responsibilities on Oct. 24 in the wake of Lute Olson's retirement a day earlier ... Pennell returned to college basketball on May 5, 2008, when he joined the Wildcat staff, ending a two-year stint as the head of the Arizona Premier League in the Phoenix area ... He also provided color commentary for the Arizona State University radio network during the 2007-08 season ... Most recently, Pennell served as an assistant coach for Arizona State for eight seasons from 1998-2006 ... While working for the Sun Devils under coach Rob Evans, the program amassed a 119-120 (.498) record that included one NCAA Tournament berth (2003) and three trips to the N.I.T. ... Prior to his tenure in Tempe, Ariz., Pennell served on Evans' staff at the University of Mississippi for six seasons (1992-98), where the Rebels went 86-81 (.515) and made back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances in 1997 and 1998 ... In those two seasons, Mississippi won the Southeastern Conference West Division championship and won at least 20 games ... It was the first time the program had posted consecutive 20-win seasons in 60 years ... Pennell began his coaching career at Oklahoma State University from 1990-92, helping the Cowboys to a 52-16 (.765) record under coach Eddie Sutton ... During the 1990-91 campaign, the Cowboys shared the Big Eight Conference championship with a 24-8 overall record and advanced to the NCAA Tournament ... The following year, OSU posted a 28-8 record, and was ranked as high as No. 2 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. The Cowboys advanced to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 in both of Pennell's seasons in Stillwater ... Pennell, 48, earned a degree in physical education from Pittsburg State University in 1989 and received his master's in P.E. from PSU in 1990 ... He is assisted by Mike Dunlap, Reggie Geary and Matt Brase.

LAST TIME OUT: In another intensely played game between these two clubs, free throws once again proved to be the great equalizer, as Washington picked up an 83-79 win Saturday in Seattle. UW went to the line 22 more times than Arizona in the second half to help the team erase a 10-point deficit in the closing period. The Huskies struggled from the line for much of the night, connecting on just 54.3 percent of its tries, but knocked down 10-of-12 in the final three minutes. Jordan Hill led the Wildcats with 27 points and 10 rebounds, his 16th of the season, while Chase Budinger added 20 points and eight boards.

SCOUTING CALIFORNIA: The Golden Bears enter tonight's contest with a 21-8 record (10-6 Pac-10) following Saturday's 72-68 home loss to UCLA. On the season, Cal shoots 49.0 percent (785-of-1,601) from the field, including 43.9 percent (175-of-399) from three-point range, outrebounds the opposition by a +3.2 per game margin, and outscores its opponents by 7.9 points per game. Three Golden Bears average in double figures, led by Jerome Randle's 17.8 ppg mark. Jamal Boykin holds the rebounding lead with a 6.5 rebounds per game average.

THE SERIES: Tonight's game is the 78th meeting of the two schools with Arizona holding a 51-26 advantage in the series, which dates back to Feb. 1, 1924. Arizona has won 18 of the last 21 meetings, but Cal captured the last, a 69-55 win in Berkeley on Jan. 2. All-time, Arizona is 26-8 in series games played in Tucson, 22-17 in Berkeley, Calif., and 3-1 in neutral-site games. See page 92 in the Arizona basketball media guide for more series information.

LAST MEETING: California 69, Arizona 55, Jan. 2, 2009: California limited Arizona to just one field goal in the final 7:56 and closed the game on a 14-4 run in that span to claim the win. The loss was the worst for the Cats in Berkeley since December 1958. Once again the UA offense struggled, shooting just 42.1 percent and its 12 turnovers led to 16 Cal points. Jordan Hill collected his ninth double-double of the season with 18 points and 11 rebounds, while Nic Wise added 16 points of his own.

HONORING LUTE: Arizona will honor former head coach Lute Olson during halftime of tonight's game against California. Olson, his family, former players and members of the Pac-10 community will be on hand to honor the coach both in person and on video. UA's Hall of Fame coach posted a career record of 780-280 (.736) in 34 seasons as an NCAA Division I head coach and was 589-187 (.759) in 24 years at Arizona. Olson is one of only 18 coaches in basketball history to tally 1,000 career victories (covering all levels; Olson also coached on the high school and junior college levels), and has the most Pac-10 wins (327) of any coach in league history. During his quarter century at Arizona, the Wildcats won one national championship (1997), played in the national championship game (2001), participated in four Final Fours (1988, 1994, 1997, 2001), won 11 Pac-10 Conference titles, four Pac-10 Tournament crowns (1988, `89, `90, 2002) and participated in the NCAA Tournament in 23 consecutive seasons (currently 24), which is the longest active and second-longest streak in NCAA history (North Carolina, 27).

BIG MAN IN THE MIDDLE: In a pair of games last week, Jordan Hill led Arizona with averages of 21.0 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists. He connected on 63.3 percent of his field goal attempts (19-of-30), while adding two blocks and four steals. Hill opened the week with 15 points, nine rebounds and two steals at Washington State and followed that up with a game-high 27 points (12-of-18 FG), 10 rebounds and three assists at No. 21 Washington. For Hill, it was his Pac-10-leading 16th double-double and his 11th 20-point game this season. On the year, Hill is averaging 18.2 points, 11.0 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game, while shooting .555 from the field.

LATE NIGHT HANGOVERS: Tonight's game marks the eighth time this season that the Wildcats will start a game at 8 p.m. or later local time, and team is 3-4 in those games. Such is the cost of playing so often on national television, as eight of Arizona's 15 national television appearances have started at 8 p.m. or later.

ON TARGET: Freshman Kyle Fogg hit 1-of-2 shots from behind the arc Saturday at Washington, finishing with nine points, four rebounds and four assists. Over the last 10 games, few Cats have as efficient from deep as Fogg has connected on 17-of-33 three-point attempts (.515). The 6-foot-2 native of Brea, Calif., is shooting 50.0 percent from the floor (28-of-56) in that span and is averaging 9.6 points per game.

NOT ACCORDING TO PLAN: After averaging 60.5 points per game in its previous two road tilts, Arizona did warm up a bit Saturday, when it tallied 78 points. Normally such output bodes well for the Wildcats, as the club was 11-1 entering the game when scoring 70 or more points. Saturday's loss was Arizona's first Pac-10 defeat this season when scoring 70 or more points.

ELITE COMPANY: Jordan Hill continues to play like one of the best big men in the country, as witnessed by his performance Saturday at Washington. The 6-foot-10 junior knocked down a career-best 12 field goals (in 18 attempts) to go with 10 boards, three assists and two steal, while missing roughly four minutes of action after spraining his ankle. Hill, who has finished in double figures in all but one of his 28 appearances this year, currently leads the Pac-10 with 16 double-doubles. In UA's two-game road trip last week, he connected on 19-of-30 (.633) field goal attempts. Hill enters Thursday's game with California just five rebounds shy of 700 for his career.

MISFIRING: It's become obvious through 29 games that Arizona relies on the contributions of its 'Big Three' of Chase Budinger (17.6 ppg), Jordan Hill (18.2) and Nic Wise (14.8) have combined for 69.7 percent (1,448 of 2,076) of Arizona's offense this season. One of the problems for the Wildcats last week was the simple fact that not all three pistons were firing simultaneously. Thursday at Washington State, Chase Budinger was 3-of-11 from the field and tallied just nine points, while Hill and Wise combined for 34. Saturday at Washington, Wise was 3-of-15 from the field and totaled 11 points, while Budinger and Hill netted 47.

TOPPING 20: With Jordan Hill (27 points) and Chase Bundinger (20) both finishing with 20+ points Saturday, it marked the ninth time this season that Arizona has had two players score 20 or more in the same game. All told, Arizona has had a player break the 20-point plateau 29 times in 2008-09 with Budinger (12), Hill (11) and Nic Wise (6) responsible for each of them. Incidentally, Budinger's 20-point effort Saturday was his 80th career game in double figures for the junior forward from Encinitas, Calif.

CLOSE CALLS: Saturday's five-point loss at Washington marked UA's eighth game this season decided by five points or less and the Cats are 3-5 in those contests. Of Arizona's 11 losses this season, four have come by two points or less and three of those have been road games.

TIGHTEN UP THE D: One factor that needs improvement is UA's second-half defense. In two games this week, UA opponents combined to shoot .618 (34-of-55) from the field in the second half. In that same span, Arizona connected on 43.3 percent (26-of-60) of its FG attempts and was outscored by a combined 28 points in the final period. On the year, Arizona outscores the opposition by an average of 2.7 points per game.

VALUING THE BALL: One thing worth noting during UA's current three-game losing streak is the fact that Arizona has done a good job of taking care of the ball. In those three games, UA is averaging just 10.3 turnovers per game and committed 10 or less in two of those games. That 10.3 turnovers per game figure is down from the Cats' season average of 12.9 miscues per game. Incidentally, Arizona is 13-3 this season when winning (or equal) the turnover battle, but each of those defeats have come in the last three ball games.

GETTING DEFENSIVE: Nic Wise has proven to be quite the offensive force with averages of 14.8 points and 4.6 assists per game, but the junior from Houston, Texas, has also been excellent defensively, ranking ninth in the Pac-10 with an average of 1.4 steals per game. The 5-foot-10 guard has been even better of late, collecting a game-high three steals in his last two games and averaging 2.5 spg over his last six games.

BETTER BACKCOURT: Arizona got a boost from a pair of Phoenix-area players on Saturday, as Zane Johnson and Brendon Lavender made solid contributions at Washington. Johnson, a 6-foot-5 sophomore guard from Phoenix, equaled a career high with three assists against the Huskies and had zero turnovers in 24 minutes of action. Lavender, a 6-foot-3 freshman guard from Mesa, Ariz., hit 2-of-3 field goals en route to four points - a Pac-10 high - and a steal in 12 minutes. For good measure, Lavender did not commit a miscue in those 12 minutes.

DISCREPANCIES: Despite connecting on 13-of-14 (.929) free throws, charity tosses proved crucial in Saturday's loss. Washington went to the line 35 times in the five-point win, a UA opponent high this season, and outscored UA from the line, 19-13. Perhaps more striking was differential in the second half, as Washington went to the line 24 times (made 15), while Arizona attempted only two (made both).

SCORING 80: Arizona scored 84 points Feb. 14 vs. UCLA, breaking the 80-point barrier for the eighth time this year. Perhaps no statistic is more telling of UA success, as the squad is 178-19 (.904) since the start of the 1997-98 season when scoring at least 80 points. Arizona is 8-0 this season when topping the 80-point plateau.

UP NEXT: Following today's contest, the regular season closes as Arizona hosts Stanford on Saturday, March 7. Tip-off is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. MST and can be seen on FOX Sports Arizona.

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