About this time last week, everybody was hemming and hawing about the inclusion of 19 win, 12 loss Arizona to this year’s Big Dance. Two victories later, the Wildcats are heading to the Sweet 16, erasing any doubt along the way about whether or not they were deserving of an at-large bid. In Round one, the ‘Cats defeated #5 seeded Utah 84-71. On Sunday, Arizona avoided the upset curse, staving off #13 seed Cleveland State, who had stunned #4 seed Wake Forest themselves in the opening round. On Monday, head coach Russ Pennell joined KTAR in Phoenix to talk about his upstart Wildcats, and what they need to do to stay alive when they next take the court against top seeded Louisville.
To open, Pennell just emphasized how happy his guys fought through all the doubters and negativity to respond on the biggest of stages:
“We’re having a great time and these guys have been through so much. It’s just so good to see them have this success late in the season. We’ve kind of been the underdogs all year, which is weird for the University of Arizona.”
“When we were selected to the tournament, you could just see the relief on his face thinking I get a second chance here on a big stage to show people that’s not who I am. I’ve said this before – I think Chase Budinger plays with more pressure on him than just about any player in college basketball just because of the hype surrounding him when he got here. And Chase is a guy who is at his best when he can be a part of what we’re doing and not the focal point. Then all of a sudden he raises his game…I just think it’s a freedom he feels right now.”
On what his game plan will be when they play Louisville:
“Knowing what they’re going to do and stopping what they’re going to do are two different things but I think we’ll go into that game prepared just like we were this past weekend but we’ll slug away, give it our best shot, and see what happens.’