TUCSON, Ariz. (AP)—Coach Lute Olson knows what a prize he has in Chase Budinger. That’s why he told the freshman to take charge of the Arizona offense.
Budinger got the message.
He scored 32 points in his first Arizona home game and the 15th-ranked Wildcats used a big second-half run to beat Northern Arizona 101-79 Wednesday night.
“I talked to Chase in the locker room before the game,” Olson said. “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.”’
The super freshman from Encinitas, Calif., scored 23 in the first half on 9-for-12 shooting, including 4-of-4 from 3-point range.
“Our defense was not bad in the first half except for Budinger,” Northern Arizona’s Stephen Sir said. “He was allowed to shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot. It got kind of annoying after a while.”
Budinger fired away while the student section chanted “Chase, Chase!” and finished 11-of-15 from the field.
“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.”
Olson has compared Budinger to Elliott from the start.
“They’re so similar in that they can both score but they’re great passers. They have great body control,” the coach said.
Northern Arizona coach Mike Adras said Budinger “is everything they talked about.”
“He kept answering,” Adras said. “He could score inside or outside. He’s a heck of a player. We will probably see him playing basketball for many years to come.”
The Wildcats (1-1) led from the early minutes but were up only 48-40 at halftime.
Coming off a season-opening 93-90 loss at Virginia on Sunday, Arizona turned the game into a blowout with a 28-5 outburst over a 6 1/2 -minute span in the second half.
Mustafa Shakur had 20 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds for Arizona. He scored 12 in the run, including a pair of three-point plays. He was motivated by his poor performance at Virginia, where he was 0-for-5 shooting with five points.
“Sometimes I think Mustafa puts too much pressure on himself,” Olson said. “In the first half he was trying to do too much. The second half he really did a good job of just playing within himself.”
Jawann McClellan, who scored 13, capped the surge with a layup that put the Wildcats ahead 82-51 with 10:36 to go.
Sir led Northern Arizona (1-2) with 17 points, including 5-of-6 on 3s.
The Lumberjacks scored 14 consecutive points against the Wildcats’ reserves to cut the lead to 92-77 with four minutes to play. Olson put Shakur and Ivan Radenovic back into the game to stem the rally. Radenovic, who played only six minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, scored 10.
Budinger sank a 3-pointer, Shakur had a three-point play and Marcus Williams stuffed on a lob from Budinger in an 8-0 spurt that put Arizona up 19-7 with 15:02 to play in the half.
Budinger made his first six shots, including a jumper and baseline driving stuff to start a 7-0 surge that gave Arizona its biggest first-half lead at 33-18 with 8:45 left before the halftime.
But the pesky Lumberjacks stayed close, despite foul trouble. Deverik Taylor’s 3-pointer cut the lead to 40-34 with 3:55 to go in the half. Budinger followed with a 3 and the Wildcats led 48-40 at the break.
Tyrone Bazy made two free throws with 18:15 to play to slice Arizona’s lead to 54-46, then freshman Jordan Hill scored inside to begin the Wildcats’ decisive run.
The Wildcats announced before the game that senior center Kirk Walters would be sidelined indefinitely with mononucleosis.
Although the crowd was noisy and the student section boisterous, there were many empty student seats. The crowd of 13,511 was the smallest since March 11, 1988, before McKale Center’s seating was expanded.