It didn’t take long for Arizona’s Chase Budinger to make his presence felt in Tucson.
The freshman forward seeks another big effort for the 15th-ranked Wildcats when they host New Mexico State on Sunday.
Arizona (1-1) bounced back from a season-opening loss at Virginia last Sunday for a 101-79 victory over Northern Arizona on Wednesday. Budinger was a major reason why, scoring 32 points on 11-of-15 shooting in the team’s home opener.
The 6-foot-7 Budinger had 17 points in his college debut against Virginia.
“I talked to Chase in the locker room before the game,” Arizona coach Lute Olson said after Wednesday’s win. “I said, ‘You’re our Sean Elliott. You can’t worry about whether you’re outscoring the sophomores, juniors or seniors. You have to be a key guy for us.”’
Budinger, who has grabbed a team-leading 12 rebounds, is the prize recruit among Arizona’s three freshmen. He’s also considered one of the top young volleyball players in the country, earning national player of the year honors as a high school senior in that sport.
The Wildcats are happy Budinger is concentrating on basketball, since he’s shooting 67 percent (18-of-27) through two games and has made 6-of-9 from 3-point range.
“It always feels good when you start knocking down shots,” Budinger said. “Every time I hit a shot the crowd would go wild. It’s a great feeling.”
Budinger will be going against a New Mexico State team that is allowing opponents to shoot 50 percent. The suspect defense is one problem former NBA player Reggie Theus is trying to fix in his second season as Aggies coach.
Theus went 16-14 last season and has chosen to build his program with transfers. New Mexico State (1-1) starts four transfers in Justin Hawkins (Utah), Shaun Davis (Pepperdine), Fred Peete (Kansas State) and Elijah Ingram (St. John’s).
Hawkins (15.5 points per game), Davis (12.0) and Ingram (11.0) are the team’s top three scorers.
The Aggies enter after a difficult 71-69 loss at Loyola Marymount on Friday night, blowing a 17-point lead and losing on a 3-pointer with 0.9 seconds left.
Olson indicated he may shuffle his lineup and give freshman forward Jordan Hill his first start Sunday. The 6-foot-9 Hill would replace Jawann McClellan, giving Arizona’s lineup a second post player along with 6-10 center Ivan Radenovic.
The Wildcats are a bit shorthanded up front since center Kirk Walters is out with mononucleosis. It’s one reason why Hill, who had eight points and four rebounds on Wednesday, is being counted on so early in the season.
Arizona leads the all-time series 56-38. This is just the second meeting since 1971 and first since the Wildcats ended a six-game slide in the series with am 84-60 victory on Nov. 19, 1999 in the semifinals of the preseason NIT.