Improbable Wildcats favored against Utah - East Valley Tribune: Sports

Improbable Wildcats favored against Utah

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Posted: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 5:15 pm | Updated: 3:13 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Chase Budinger is staying away from ESPN so the talk won't "get in my head." Nic Wise tries to blow it off. But the Arizona juniors can't really avoid it completely.

Bordow's bracket: Enter at your own risk

How could they? The Wildcats have become this year's lightning rod in the annual selection committee at-large critique. You know: Pick a snub of your choice - St. Mary's, San Diego State, Creighton, whoever - and debate it versus Arizona, the team that received an NCAA tournament bid over all of them.

It's gotten to the point where selection committee chairman Mike Slive generated laughter when the Wildcats were brought up yet again on a conference call Monday.

"Arizona's got a lot of discussion, not only in the West," Slive said. "It's got a lot of discussion" everywhere.

Whatever, says Wise.

"You can't really take too much of what other people are saying," Wise said. "If we would have been out and St. Mary's would have been in, there would be an argument about us. So it goes both ways."

But Wise also noted there were "doubters within our own group," indicating that even the Wildcats had discussions among themselves as the selections neared.

UA coaches may have diffused the tension by holding what Wise described as a fast-paced, fun practice before Sunday's selection show - "it's kind of hard to get players who are thinking a lot to play hard," Wise said - but the players still braced for disappointment later in the day.

"We kind of expected we weren't going to be in, but that there was a slim chance of us making it," Budinger said. "That was on the politics side of it, but we felt we should be in. We beat some good teams. We played decently in the Pac-10. We thought that we were going to get screwed over the whole situation, but when our name came up it was a very exhilarating situation."

It felt better, Budinger said, that Arizona's 25th-straight tournament appearance was announced early this year so players didn't have to agonize throughout the whole show, as they did last season when they were not revealed as a No. 10 seed until the last pod.

By the end of this year's show, however, the Arizona debate had begun.

Budinger knows one way it can end: if the Wildcats win.

"This is our chance, our shot to go out and make a run and show them that we're better than what people are saying about us," Budinger said. "We should be in this tournament. We've just gotta go out and play like that."

A victory on Friday against Utah in the NCAA Midwest Region first-round game probably would be enough to silence the debate. But Budinger says the Wildcats can actually go further.

If they beat the Utes, Arizona will play the winner of the Wake Forest-Cleveland State game on Sunday for a spot in the Sweet 16. A long run is exactly what Budinger says he envisions.

"Of course I do," he said. "I feel we're capable of beating any team in the country. We're a tough team to beat when we're playing up to the level we're capable of."

They may not be the only ones who feel that way. Las Vegas oddsmakers already have installed the Wildcats as one-point favorites, apparently anticipating the betting public will favor Arizona despite the fact that Utah is seeded seven spots higher (and despite the fact that power ratings would indicate that the Utes should be two-point favorites).

Then there's the fact that, as a No. 12 seed, the Wildcats won't have to face a top-three seed until at least the Sweet 16, if they can somehow get past Utah and also win in the second round.

It all looks pretty good for a team that just barely got in the NCAA tournament ... until you listen to UA interim head coach Russ Pennell.

"The crazy thing to me is how we're a 12 seed and everyone thinks we got this great draw and we're the favorite," Pennell said. "I'm not buying that. I'm not letting our players buy that. (Utah) is a good basketball team that won a share of its conference championship and won their conference tournament. They're good."

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