With every win, Pennell's case grows stronger

March, 22, 2009
MIAMI -- Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood's decision on who will be his next full-time basketball coach gets more interesting with every victory.

Interim coach Russ Pennell has now taken Arizona into the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2005. There have been a bunch of big names mentioned as the possible successor to legendary Lute Olson -- but Pennell's name might be budging into the conversation, the farther he takes the Wildcats.

"I have not thought today about that," Livengood said after listening to Pennell and the Arizona players address the media following their 71-57 victory over gutty Cleveland State. "This morning I did, but this afternoon I'm doing what I told these guys, 'Live in the moment.'"

The moment has been pretty remarkable for Arizona. Arguably the last at-large team in the field, the Wildcats have justified their inclusion with two double-digit victories here in American Airlines Arena.

Pennell and assistant Mike Dunlap have done some very solid coaching along the way. One of their best moves Sunday came with less than four minutes left, with Cleveland State still hanging around, down 61-54. Coming out of a timeout, Arizona dialed up a sideline trip out of its 2-3 zone defense -- a classic Dean Smith/Roy Williams call out of a timeout. It produced a turnover and a transition dunk for Jamelle Horne.

Game over. Arizona marches on to Indianapolis as the lowest seed left in the Dance.

The Wildcats' chances to continue busting the bracket will depend as always on their big three of Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill and Nic Wise -- and lately, Wise has been the biggest weapon. He tore through Utah on Friday for 29 points, then added a game-high 21 points, eight assists and five rebounds against the Vikings today. Wise has made all 17 of his free throws this tournament.

On the losing side, it's time to say a respectful farewell to Cleveland State guard Cedric Jackson. Nobody played with more heart and gusto the first two rounds than Jackson, who keyed CSU's stunning upset romp over Wake Forest on Friday and then was treated with IVs for dehydration afterward. On Sunday, Jackson had nothing going from the outside (0-for-5 from 3-point range, part of a 3-for-23 calamity for Cleveland State) but still willed his way to 15 points, five rebounds and five steals.

Jackson's run is done but it won't be forgotten.



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