January 14, 2008

(at ASU 64, UA 59 - OT)
(UA 85, at Houston 71)

All together now:


Isn’t it amazing how much difference one game and two knees can make?

The Houston game was so good it almost makes you forget we lost the first battle of the bald (coaches) on Wednesday.

Seeing Daniel Dillon in the opening lineup in Tempe made me look it up: The Wildcats have started nine different players so far this year. That’s saying something when Saturday’s rotation only went eight deep.

That eighth player wasn’t even in uniform last week. Do you think they have a drawing to see which player comes out of his redshirt each year? Congratulations, Zane Johnson! You’re this year’s winner of a shortened career!

After Jeff Pendergraph’s early bucket the Devils settled into their patented offense. It took them two and a half minutes to make their second basket, then seven minutes to add two free throws, then a minute and a half before their next field goal, then two and a half more minutes of scorelessness. Fourteen minutes, ten points. The problem is instead of having 30 points of our own we only had 21. The lack of scoring is only supposed to go one way.

Jordan Hill sits with foul trouble and an eight-point second half lead shrinks to two. Chase Budinger’s first points of the second half come with a little over four minutes on the clock. Yet with 1:53 left in regulation the Cats still held a five-point lead. But we couldn’t get that one last stop and or that one last bucket. This time there was no Salim Stoudamire to definitely-not-travel before hitting the game-winner.

So continue the not-good times for the southern part of the Grand Canyon State. The last time ASU beat us in both football and basketball in the same school year was 1991-’92 (the year The Streak ended). The last time they swept us in the two main sports was 1981-’82. Let’s go ahead and not change that one.

(We interrupt the misery to bring you a multi-colored mystery. Arizona’s basketballs are orange. ASU uses dark brown basketballs. Then we go to Houston and their basketballs are so light they almost look white. Why is that? Everybody’s footballs are the same color. Baseball teams aren’t allowed to use pink or gray balls. Why can’t we bring hue harmony to the hardwood? Carry on.)

I can see it now: Kevin O’Neill walks up to Jerryd Bayless in a Houston hotel and says, “I knee’d you.” Maybe that’s not how he spelled it but you get the idea.

Jawann McClellan can dunk in Houston! Can we get some of his mama’s home cooking shipped to Tucson? The local boys did a great job filling the stat book. Jawann put up a 9-3-3-2, Fendi had four points and five boards, and Nic had five points and five fouls.

Raise your hand if you about died when Jordan Hill turned his ankle. Raise your hand if you put your remote control in great physical danger. Both of my hands are raised which makes typing this sentence very difficult.

But Hill returned to do mountainous things and Bayless played like he suddenly had three good knees. Jerryd is the only guy we have quick enough to get into the lane yet strong enough to finish at the rim. The immediate impact is less reliance on the three-point shot. We only attempted three in the first half and eight the entire game (making a solid 38% of them). It was much better than watching the 15 missed bombs against ASU and 16 clunkers versus Oregon.

Bayless isn’t just really, really good, he also frees up Chase Budinger to be himself as opposed to trying to be the guy who scores all the points. Chase is at his best when we can be a passer and a rebounder and a spot-up shooter.

May we never be Bayless-less again.

So the non-conference schedule concludes with a solid 10-3 record. That means we need a 10-8 Pac-10 record to secure 20 regular season wins. If we can go 6-3 at home (we’re 1-1 now) we would need a 4-5 mark on the road.

The strategy for getting those four wins is easy: split every road trip. In other words, you really want to beat Oregon State, Washington and USC. The most balanced trip may be this next one so getting a split by the bay would be a great start.

The Houston win reminded us that with good health and good fortune we can still have a good season. For now, it feels good.

In fact, this is the best I’ve felt after a loss to ASU in a long time. Yeah, The Streak: Basketball Edition (Part III) is over but you knew it would end eventually. It’s one thing to say, “I think we would’ve won if we had Injured Player,” and it’s another thing to absolutely know it. The Bayless show in southeast Texas changed everything. ASU wins a low scoring, poor shooting, overtime game, and you don’t think Jerryd Bayless and his 19.7 points, 4.6 assists and 83.7% free throw percentage makes a difference?

Congrats on your first win over Arizona, Herb. Be sure to play it up at the next Tempe Turn-the-corner rally. See you in Tucson on February 10.

We’ll bring the orange balls.


I don’t just look at this as a weekly exercise in bad predictions and blind optimism. I also like to think of this column as an educational oasis in the desert of internet sports writing. But mainly the bad predictions.

A lot has been made of LSU becoming the first football national champion with two losses. The problem is that’s only technically true. In 1960 Minnesota was 8-1 when the Gophers finished #1 in a very close vote over 8-0-1 Mississippi. That’s all fine and good except everyone still had another game to play.

The bowls were truly viewed as exhibitions back then so the Associated Press didn't even bother putting out a poll after the regular season. Minnesota went on to lose the Rose Bowl (that much hasn't changed for the Big Ten) and finish with an 8-2 record. Ole Miss won the Sugar Bowl so I'm sure Tommy Tuberville's ancestors greatly enjoyed their #2 ranking.

By the way, if you thought the polls were funky now, 8-1 Iowa got 12.5 first place votes (out of 48) even though they lost to 8-1 Minnesota that same year, 27-10.

Back to the present day, I know I don’t have room to talk since my team didn’t even make a bowl, but if I were a SEC fan I would be saying something like…

At least Ohio State got to ten points before getting smoked this year. Just seven or eight more national title game appearances and they might finally make one close. Or…

There’s no truth to the rumor that the Sun Belt has applied to replace the Big Ten as a BCS conference. Or…

Football 2006, basketball 2007, football 2007. OSU is #1…at being #2.

(And now back to your regularly schedule life as an ever-waiting Arizona fan.)

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