These Wildcats Can Actually Bite

It will be the biggest test to date for the young Jayhawks. After seven games at Allen Fieldhouse and three in Kansas City, Kansas plays its first official road game of the season at Arizona on Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. (CST).

The game, which will be televised on FSN, is part of the Desert Fiesta Bowl Classic and Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood Series. KU leads the overall series with Arizona 7-3 and won two of the last three meetings, including last year’s 76-72 overtime victory in Allen Fieldhouse on Nov. 25.

But this matchup Tuesday night will be away from the cozy Phog and in the packed and hostile environment at McKale Center. KU coach Bill Self is excited to see how his 8-2 Jayhawks meet the challenge.

“The thing I love about coaching is that, no matter what the situation is, when you go into a game, you kind of know what to expect from the team,” Self said. “I’m not quite to that point with this team. I still think we’re kind of emotionally up-and-down. I think it will be fun for me to learn about them and see how they’re going to react on the road.”

It certainly won’t be easy against a very talented 7-3 Arizona team, which is looking to rebound after losing at UNLV, 79-64, last Saturday. The Wildcats are led by star forwards Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill. The 6-7 Budinger paces UA in scoring at 19.1 points per game and steals (13), while ranking second on the team in rebounds (6.0 rpg). Budinger, a sure-fire NBA Lottery pick, is shooting a scorching 58.1 percent from three-point range (25 of 43).

His counterpart Hill is also a potent weapon. The 6-9 forward leads the Wildcats in rebounding (11.9 rpg), and is second in scoring at 18.5 points per game. He’s a dominating force inside, recording 28 of Arizona’s 44 blocked shots.

Arizona’s third partner in crime is rising junior guard Nic Wise. He leads the team with 52 assists while averaging 13.6 points per game and ranking second behind Budinger with 20 three-pointers. Sophomore forward Jamelle Horne (7.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg) and freshman guard Kyle Fogg (4.4 ppg) also add firepower to the Wildcats’ starting lineup.

Besides UNLV, Arizona has losses to UAB (72-71 at home on Nov. 18) and at Texas A&M (67-66) on Dec. 5. The Wildcats earned a big victory over then-No. 4 Gonzaga (69-64) on Dec. 14 before falling to Vegas.

Arizona averages 72.7 points per game and allows 63.2. The Wildcats are also outrebounding opponents 34.9 to 29.3 and shooting a sparkling 46 percent from three-point range.

“They are really good and they have two top-half of the first round pros (Budinger and Hill),” Self said. “They have a third guy, Nic Wise, who has become a very good college guard. Chase Budinger shoots (close to) 60 percent from the three-point line. They are a hard team to double team because they can shoot it well. We are going to have to be really solid defensively and efficient offensively.”

Self’s Jayhawks hope to build on their strong game against Temple (71-59 victory) Saturday, where Sherron Collins and Tyshawn Taylor keyed the offensive attack. Taylor was splendid with 11 points (4-7 FG) eight assists, four steals and just one turnover, earning Phillips 66 Big 12 Rookie of the Week honors for the second time in three weeks.

Collins, meanwhile, bounced back from a rough performance against Massachusetts (6-21 FG) on Dec. 13 and led KU with 19 points (8-18 FG). He also dished out six assists with only two turnovers.

“I thought he looked like a point guard who could score,” Self said. “I thought Tyshawn had a very good game also. Probably as good as those two have been together this year in large respect because they were efficient. Fourteen (assists) and three turnovers, and to shoot 50 percent rom the guard spot collectively, that’s pretty good.”

Taylor and the other five KU newcomers will get their first taste of life on the road Tuesday night.

“I think it’s going to be a tough atmosphere, something the freshmen have never seen,” Collins said. “I think we’ll be all right. Coach is going to explain it. I’ve been through these games. I know how it’s going to be. It’s going to be loud, everybody is going to be against us and we got to hold together.”

Containing Budinger will be key.

“He’s about as athletic as they get,” sophomore guard Brady Morningstar said. “I’m excited to go down there and take a shot at them.”

Win or lose, Self will certainly know much more about his team after the young Jayhawks face their first true road game of the early season.

“We need to get away from home,” Self said. “We need to play somewhere else. That’s going to be a tough game for our guys, so young and haven’t been anywhere yet. It should be good for us. We got to find out who we are, what we can hang our hat on. Hopefully, we’ll go out and make steady progress. If we do that and you add ‘em up at the end, I really believe this team has a chance to be good.

“We need to go play somewhere else and have some success.”

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