NCAA Game Notes: March 23, 2009

March 23, 2009

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Date: Friday, March 27, 2009

Time: 7 p.m. EDT

Location: Lucas Oil Stadium (63,000), Indianapolis, Ind.

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


GAME DATA: No. 12 seed Arizona (21-13, 9-9 Pac-10) plays into the second weekend and makes a visit to Indianapolis, Ind., to open play in the Midwest Regional against No. 1 seed Louisville (30-5, 16-2 Big East) in Friday's first semifinal at Lucas Oil Stadium ... This is UA's 25th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance - 28th overall - and the program has a 43-26 (.623) record in its previous NCAA Tournament action ... This is Arizona's 13th tournament game (5-7) for the program in the Eastern Time Zone, though the Cats have competed in the Eastern Time Zone in three of its last four appearances ... 2009 marks the Wildcats' second NCAA Tournament appearance in Indianapolis, as the club won the 1997 national championship in the Circle City.

THE RANKINGS: Arizona remains unranked in the March 16 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 21-13 (.618) ... 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: Arizona scored the first seven points of the game and never looked back in Sunday's 71-57 win over Cleveland State in the NCAA Midwest Region second round game in Miami, Fla. Nic Wise continued his stellar play with 21 points, five rebounds and eight assists to lead UA to its first Sweet 16 appearance since 2005. Arizona held Cleveland State to just 37.3 percent shooting for the game, including 29.6 percent in the first half, outrebounded the Vikings 33-30 and posted a 24-10 advantage from the free throw line in a game in which it never trailed.

SCOUTING LOUISVILLE: The Cardinals enter tonight's game with a 30-5 record (16-2 Big East) following Sunday's 79-72 win over Siena in Dayton. As a team, Louisville shoots 45.5 percent from the field (945-of-2,076), including 36.4 percent (285-of-782) from three-point range, while averaging 74.1 points per game. Opponents shoot at a 39.4 percent clip and are averaging 61.7 points per game. Three Cardinal players average in double figures, led by Earl Clark's 13.9 ppg figure. Clark leads the team with an 8.8 rebounds per game average.

THE SERIES: Tonight's game is the fifth meeting of the two schools with the series knotted at two wins apiece. Arizona captured the last two meetings in the series, which dates back to Dec. 23, 1948, by a 72-65 count on Dec. 5, 2006, in New York City. All-time, Arizona is 0-0 in series games played in Tucson, 0-2 in Louisville, Ky., and 2-0 in neutral-site games. Please see page 97 in the UA media guide for more series information.

LAST MEETING: Arizona 72, Louisville 65, Dec. 5, 2006: For the first time this season Arizona relied on its defense to secure a win, as the Cats prevailed, 72-65, in the Jimmy V Classic in Madison Square Garden. UA built an early 15-point lead, but struggled mightily from the floor from there, shooting a season-low 34.0 percent and missing 20 of its first 22 shots to open the second half. The Cats did earn a 30-5 scoring advantage from the free throw line, bolstered by Ivan Radenovic and Jawann McClellan who each connected on 9-of-10 attempts.

AGAINST THE BIG EAST CONFERENCE: Arizona has an all-time record of 30-23 (.566) against teams that currently reside in the Big East Conference. UA's last game against a Big East foe came on March 20, 2008, in a 75-65 loss to West Virginia in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Over the last six years, the Cats are 3-4 against Big East opposition, and two of those games (Villanova, L, 82-78, March 19, 2006) were NCAA Tournament tilts.

CALL US CINDERELLA: Arizona's first NCAA Tournament appearance as a No. 12 seed has turned out to be a good one, as UA advanced to the Midwest Regional semifinal and is the lowest seed remaining in the event. It is the lowest seed for the program since seeding was introduced to the tournament in 1985.

THE BEAT GOES ON: This is Arizona's 25th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, which is the longest active streak and second longest tournament appearance streak in NCAA history. The streak trails only North Carolina, which made 27 straight appearances from 1975-2001. Regarding active numbers of appearances, here are the leaders, three of which can be found at the Midwest Regional: Arizona 25, Kansas 20, Duke 14 and Michigan State 12.

SWEET 16: Sunday's win over Cleveland State clinched Arizona's 13th regional semifinal appearance. Arizona has earned five Sweet 16 berths in the last 10 seasons, but this is the first for the program since 2005. In regional semifinals, Arizona has an 8-4 record.

UPHILL BATTLE: Arizona faces No. 1 seed Louisville in Friday's Midwest Regional semifinal. Since seeding was introduced in 1985, Arizona has a 6-5 record against a No. 1 seed. Interestingly, the Wildcats have more wins against the top seed than it does against any other seed in the tournament. Those six wins are more than it has against seeds 2-4 combined (5). The last time UA faced a No. 1 seed was March 19, 2006, in an 82-78 loss to Villanova in the Minneapolis Region's second round.

SELECT COMPANY: Lending more significance to Arizona's 25th consecutive NCAA Tournament is the fact that the Cats have accomplished the feat with three different coaches in the last three seasons. In NCAA Division I tournament history, Arizona is the third program to make three consecutive appearances with three different head coaches. The others: Seattle University (Vince Cazetta, 1962; Clair Markey, 1963; Bob Boyd, 1964) and Southern Illinois (Bruce Weber, 2003; Matt Painter, 2004; Chris Lowery, 2005). Russ Pennell is the fifth UA mentor to lead the Cats to the NCAA Tournament, joining Fred A. Enke (1951), Fred Snowden (1976, `77), Lute Olson (1985-2007) and Kevin O'Neill (2008), and is just the third (Snowden/Olson) to win a tournament game.

UNDERDOG: When looking at Arizona's tournament history, it hasn't played as a seeded underdog too often. Since 1985, the Wildcats have played a total of 64 NCAA Tournament games, and only 19 of those had Arizona as the lower seed. UA has a 8-11 (.421) record in those contests. Friday's game is the widest gap in seeds (1-12=11) with Arizona as the lower seeded team in UA's tournament history.

UPHOLDING TRADITION: Arizona captured its 20th and 21st wins of the season last weekend in Miami to post the 31st 20-win season in school history and the 21st in the last 22 seasons. Only last year's club, who posted a 19-15 record, failed to win 20 games in that span. Since the start of the 1984-85 season, Arizona has averaged 24.8 wins per season. The program has also won 41 NCAA Tournament games in the last quarter century.

FEEL THE BURN: It's been a season-long trend so it wasn't so surprising when Arizona's starting lineup pretty much stayed in action throughout the two NCAA games in Miami. Chase Budinger led the way with 79 minutes, Nic Wise and Kyle Fogg notched 72 apiece, Jordan Hill played 71 minutes and Jamelle Horne turned in 57 -- but with a season-high tying 38 in the Cleveland State game. Hill and Wise would have logged more but each had three first-half fouls against the Vikings and earned a forced rest. Budinger had the only 40-minute effort, against Utah, his 12th of the season.

A CONNECTION IS MADE: The Cats picked a good weekend to post some solid shooting nights, hitting at an effective combined 52.5 percent (52-of-99) against Utah and Cleveland State in Miami's first and second rounds. Both were better than the opponent (.545 to .422 vs. Utah, .500 vs. .373 vs. CSU), and helped Arizona build early leads they kept throughout. This season, Arizona is 12-2 when shooting 50 percent or better from the field and 18-5 when outshooting the opposition.

CAPITALIZING ON OPPORTUNITIES: If you have to grind it out - and UA has done that all season - the squad had better take advantage of the stripe. The Cats posted its second-highest free throw total of the year against Cleveland State (24-of-28), and one of its top percentages this season, .875. Free throw shooting has not been problematic for UA this year, unless it's games where it's been difficult to GET to the line. UA has hit 80 percent or better in a dozen games, with the best a 91 percent outing (19-21) in a victory against USC. The highest total was a 41-for-51 evening in a victory over Washington. Against CSU the charitable approach helped quite a bit as UA knocked down only 22 field goals, its fourth-lowest total of the year. Arizona made 10 of its last 11 FTs against Cleveland State and its last 12 against Utah for some end-game success at the line of note.

AN IMPOSING FIGURE: With Arizona making its 25th consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament, here's a number to put that into perspective. According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics for 2007 (the most current available), there are more than 103 million people in the United States who have never witnessed an NCAA Tournament without Arizona's participation. That covers 34.5 percent of the nation's population.

FIND THE OPEN MAN: Few things are more emphasized to basketball players than teamwork that results in the easy or open shot -- assisted buckets. Nic Wise led Arizona with eight assists against CSU, one shy of his career high. All told, Wise had a hand in 38 of Arizona's 71 points last Sunday. Better still, the Wildcats' swarming defensive work helped hold Cleveland State to three assists, an opponent season low.

BRING AN END TO THE POSSESSION: It can be said that offense starts on the defensive glass and Arizona had one of its strongest showings since January in that area in the first two NCAA games, collecting 50 boards on that end of the floor while in Miami. UA posted a +13 defensive rebound margin (50-37) cumulatively against Utah and Cleveland State.

PILING UP POINTS: Look no further than Arizona's 'Big Three' of Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill and Nic Wise for offensive productivity, as the trio has tallied 1,749 of the Wildcats' 2,465 points scored in 2008-09. That's 71.0 percent of the offense. Combined, those three have finished in double figures 88 of a possible 101 games this year. UA is 8-0 this season when each of the Big Three score 15 or more points.

A NEW VENUE: The Cats are 5-1 in neutral-court games this year. Overall Arizona was 14-2 at home and is 7-10 away from home -- 2-9 in true road games and 5-1 on the neutral courts. Roughly, it's a two-hour trip up I-65 for Louisville to get to Indianapolis, while Arizona will spend at least that much time at 30,000 feet, but it's still going to be a neutral court at Lucas Oil Stadium in what will be the facility's first NCAA Tournament action. This season, Arizona is shooting .511 from the field (157-of-307) in neutral-site games, significantly better than its opponents (143-of-332/.431).

OFF THE MARK: Making one fifth of your long distance shots won't help your cause. That's what Arizona's opponents hit from three-point range last week -- 11-of-55 (200). Three-point field goal defense had hurt the Cats entering the tournament, as opponents had connected on 67-of-155 (.432) three-point attempts in the last six games of the regular season. On a historical note, UA has allowed 277 treys this season...the most in school history.

HARD TO TOP THIS: Nic Wise certainly enjoyed the first two rounds of NCAA Tournament play, as the 5-foot-10 junior averaged 25.0 points and 5.0 assists per game, while shooting 57.7 percent (15-of-26) form the field and knocking down all 17 free throws. At one point of the Utah game, Wise tallied nine straight points for the Cats, while responding similarly vs. Cleveland State. When the Vikings cut the UA lead to four points with 9:41 remaining, the Houston, Texas, native scored seven points and fed two other FGs via assists to push the lead back to nine.

A TOP-10 GUY: Forward Jordan Hill enters the regional semifinal just four rebounds shy of moving into sole possession of 10th place on Arizona's career rebounds list. Currently, Hill has 752 career rebounds (7.8 rpg) and trails Albert Johnson's (1962-65) 755-rebound tally. With per-game averages of 18.4 points and 11.0 rebounds, the 6-foot-10 junior is on pace to become the first Arizona player since 1978-79 to average in double figures in both points and rebounds in the same season.

THIS CHASE IS APPEALING: The junior campaign has been a good one for Chase Budinger. He has career-best averages of 17.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. In addition to shooting .476 (220-of-441) from the field and .401 (65-of-162) from three-point range, the 6-foot-7 forward from Encinitas, Calif., leads the team with 65 treys and has registered career-highs in points (608), rebounds (215), assists (115), blocks (15) and steals (50). Over the last 15 games, Budinger has played a 587 of a possible 605 minutes (97 percent). He currently ranks 11th on Arizona's career scoring list with 1,675 points and will play in his 100th career game Friday.

TAKE NOTE: Forward Jamelle Horne chipped in a forceful 15 points, five rebounds and two blocks vs. Cleveland State, while equaling a season high with 38 minutes played. Over the last five games, the 6-foot-6 sophomore is averaging 9.2 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, while shooting 54.8 percent (17-of-31) from the field. On the year, Horne has 10 double-figure scoring games.

DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENTS: Arizona clamped down a bit last weekend, limiting Utah and Cleveland State to a combined 39.8 field goal percentage (49-of-123). Sunday Arizona held Cleveland State to 37.3 percent shooting (22-of-59), including just 29.6 percent in the first half. Nine times in 2008-09 opponents have failed to shoot at least 40 percent from the field. Additionally, Arizona averaged 10.5 steals per game in Miami, more than four steals per game better than its overall season average. In the NCAA Tournament, Kyle Fogg (7) and Chase Budinger (5) have nearly as many steals as UA opponents (14).

IN CONTROL: One doesn't always expect such efforts from a 12 seed, but Arizona was certainly in control of things in its first two NCAA Tournament affairs. In those two games, Arizona trailed for a total of 32 seconds to Utah and Cleveland State, and had double-digit leads before the 10-minute mark of the opening half.

SCOREBOARD WATCHING: Through 34 games this season, Arizona is 14-3 when scoring 70 or more points and 7-10 when scoring 69 or fewer points.

SCORING 80: Arizona scored 84 points March 20 vs. Utah, breaking the 80-point barrier for the 10th time this year. Perhaps no statistic is more telling of UA success, as the squad is 180-19 (.905) since the start of the 1997-98 season when scoring at least 80 points. Arizona is 10-0 this season when topping the 80-point plateau.

IN MARCH: Since the start of the 1996-97 season, Arizona has a 53-27 (.663) record in the month of March. In that span, 37 of those games have been played in the NCAA Tournament and UA is 26-11 (.703) in them. Over the three previous seasons, the Cats were 7-9 in March.

UP NEXT: A win today moves Arizona into Sunday's Midwest Regional final against the Kansas-Michigan State winner. Game time is TBA.

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