More than 1,900 miles from campus and coming into the NCAA Tournament as a 12-seed left Arizona with many doubters, but they're headed for a showdown with top-seeded Louisville in the Sweet 16. The Wildcats, led by Pittsburg State University graduate Russ Pennell, advanced to the round of 16 after beating Cleveland State, 71-57.
More than 1,900 miles from campus and coming into the NCAA Tournament as a 12-seed left Arizona with many doubters, but they're headed for a showdown with top-seeded Louisville in the Sweet 16.
The Wildcats, led by Pittsburg State University graduate Russ Pennell, advanced to the round of 16 after beating Cleveland State, 71-57.
“We knew we could be here all along. Coach Pennell, Coach Dewey, they were talking in their coaching staff meeting, and he told them that we would be in the Sweet 16, and that was five weeks ago,” said Arizona junior guard Nic Wise.
Even though he won’t admit it, Pennell may feel a little vindication after advancing to the Sweet 16 after numerous sports pundits questioned whether the Wildcats even belonged in the tournament in the first place.
“I'm real tired right now, honestly,” Pennell said. “You know what, again, it's interesting, and people all the time, they mean well when they say this to coaches, but they'll tell you as you go into games, have fun.”
Wise said that, even five weeks ago, he told teammates that he wanted nothing less than a national championship game.
That is when Pennell got a bold prediction from his father, former Pittsburg High School head boy’s basketball coach Dewey Pennell.
“He [Dewey] said, ‘You know, I just feel like this team has got another run in it,’ like we had this seven game winning streak earlier in the year, and he said, ‘I think this team is good enough to get to the Sweet 16. I think that's going to happen,’” Russ Pennell said. “I looked at him and thought, 'Man, are you going crazy or what?’”
The point now, is that the Wildcats, and Pennell — who will likely not be back at Arizona after this season — are on their way to Indianapolis to face Louisville.
“I'm sure as I reflect on the flight home, it may kind of sink in that I'm going to be coaching next weekend in the Sweet 16,” Pennell said.
And it really doesn’t matter that the Wildcats are the lowest seeded team to make the round of 16.
“I didn't even know that until you told me,” Russ Pennell said. “You know, I think the thing is in the NCAA Tournament, seedings are I think they get them right probably 99 percent of the time, and in our case with our record coming in, it's probably correct.
“But once you start playing the games, seeding, I think you can throw it out a lot of times, because it really comes down to one game seasons, who's playing well on that particular night. And for the two nights that we've played here, you know, we've played pretty well.”
Matthew Clark can be reached at email@example.com or at 620-231-2600, Ext. 140. Follow Morning Sun sports at twitter.com/mssports.