January 28, 2008

(at UA 76, WSU 64)
(at UA 83, UW 69)

Why, hello there, Good Basketball Team. How have you been? We havenít seen you around here in quite some time. You planning on sticking around for a while? Please?

That certainly wasnít expected and sometimes unexpected is good. The Washington State game was really good.

Against the Cougars Jamelle Horne started his second consecutive game but only played four minutes. Did he win some sort of honorary captain contest?

When you see WSU center Aron Baynes you think two things: 1) Jordan Hill should have a field day against this guy, and 2) Didnít I play against him in a rec league a couple years back?

Yet Baynes outscored Jordan 15-4 and he played a part in Hillís four turnovers. In the first half he was looking like the Lopez twinsí long-lost Australian cousin. But by the end of the game Jordan had made his mountainous presence felt with his six blocked shots. Not only that but most of them were of the intimidating variety, including a pin-it-on-the-backboard-and-yank-it-down-fiercely masterpiece.

Derrick Low didnít play his best game but I think itís safe to say he still has the best samurai ponytail in the league.

The game was tied at 16, 21, 23, and 29. You figured it was going to be another slow-it-down, grind-it-out contest that the Coaching Bennetts live for. But then something strange happened. We scored our first seven points of the second half from the free throw line. The aggressive play opened up looks from beyond the 3-point line, and what attractive looks they were. Gorgeous looks. Sexy looks.

Bayless and Wise hit back-to-back 3ís to push the lead to 9. A couple minutes later Budinger knocked down a couple 3ís and the lead was 11. By the time Zane Johnson joined the party-of-3 the Cats were up 14 and it was over from there.

All this against a top-10 Cougar team that had given up 47 points at Gonzaga, 52 points at Washington, and 58 points at USC. The 76-point total we dropped on them was 23 points above their season defensive average. This was a really impressive offensive performance from a team that two weeks ago couldnít even hit 60 in an overtime game.

The solid victory took the pressure off the Washington game but at the same time it made gun-shy Arizona fan nervous. It hasnít been safe to get your hopes up with Wildcat hoops the last few years and Saturdayís game had all the markings of another ďHere we go againĒ game. However, ďHere we goĒ went away fast.

They say you should try and learn something new every day. This weekend I learned womenís basketball has double overtime. Who knew?

By the time the Huskiesí Dijon mustard uniforms hit my TV screen, over 12 minutes had passed. Thereís something to be said for jumping into a game when your team has an 8-point lead and never looking back.

Kirk Walters had big sideburns. Jawann McClellan had a bloody face. Other than that it was as if the WSU game hadnít ended. Three after 3 after III. Jerryd and Chase took care of the scoring, Jordan took care of the rebounding and shot-rejecting, and the rout was on.

How good was it? Nic Wise played as the go-to scorer in a lineup full of bench players to end the first half and he scored both times. Jordan Hill threw a no-look pass from the post to the perimeter for an assist. And you know what else?

Stop. Bagga time.

It was our first undefeated week in over a month. It was our first week with consecutive double-digit victories since November 28 and December 2.

Why? Nothing has changed. And by nothing I mean the guy with the zero on his jersey. 24.5 points, 6.0 assists, 65% shooting from the floor, 67% shooting from behind the arc, 100% shooting from the line. This Jerry D. Bayless character is pretty good.

If all this wasnít enough ASU decided to lose twice. Finally the world makes a little bit of sense again. Itís as if for the past month the sky has been green and the grass has been blue. Up was down. Americans loved soccer and Brazilians couldnít get enough NASCAR. It just wasnít right.

Now we can get back to our optimistic ways. The good news is I underestimated this teamís ceiling as a healthy home team. Itís nice to know that with five conference games left in Tucson we do have a home-court advantage after all.

Now the question is can we take that kind of shooting on the road? And if not, can we get points when the 3ís arenít falling? Continuing to score from the free throw line would be a pretty good idea.

UCLA is UCLA. USC Ė as usual Ė is as athletic as they come. If basketball championships were handed out based on 40 times and vertical leaps, the Trojans would be a favorite to win it all.

USC has turned it around in a big way the last couple weeks. They started Pac-10 play with three straight losses but now theyíve won four in row by margins of 15, 9, 24 and 9, including victories at UCLA and Oregon. Thatís doing something right.

Itís definitely nice to have the WSU win in our pockets in case the trip to the City of Smoggy Angels doesnít go well. Itís a good tough road trip to end the first half of the conference season and it will tell us what kind of expectations we should have for the second trip around the Pac-10. Sweep in L.A. and youíre suddenly the dark horse contender in the race for the conference title. Split and you can take aim at third place. Get swept and itís back to shooting for a 10-8 record.

Donít let the relative ease of the last two games make you suddenly forget this team is razor thin. The í08 Cats are still only as good as the collective health, accuracy, and lack of fouls attributed to Bayless, Budinger and Hill.

But, hey, theyíre all out there right now. And razors may be thin, but theyíre also really sharp.

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