February 4, 2008

(UA 80, at USC 69)
(at UCLA 82, UA 60)

From the best road to the most embarrassing loss. Half full or half empty? It all looks like a split to me.

Against USC Jamelle Horne got another start before disappearing on the bench. Maybe his scholarship is based on appearances in the box score.

From the just-how-we-drew-it-up department, SC went on a 9-0 run (during which we only got one shot off - a Kirk Walters 15-footer) to lead by 7 with six minutes left in the first half. Kevin O'Neill takes a full timeout and Chase Budinger responds with a basket, followed by a 3-pointer, followed by an assist on a Nic Wise 3 to re-take the lead in 84 seconds.

Jawann McClellan was the big story as he scored 7 of our first 11 points, 10 of the first 14, and 13 of 21. He finished with a career-high 23 points but his biggest plays may have been elsewhere. With 5 1/2 minutes left we were holding onto a slim 60-56 lead. Jordan Hill missed two free throws but Jawann tapped back the offensive rebound. He ended up converting on the ensuing possession and we led by 6. A couple exchanges later the lead was down to 3 and Chase missed a jumper from the corner. Jawann yanked down another offensive rebound, completed the put-back, drew a foul, and nailed the free throw. Another 6-point lead and we took off from there.

Crunch time alert: After being tied at 55 with eight minutes left the UA attempted two 3's and made them both (one each by Chase and Nic). USC jacked up five from behind the arc (three from O.J. Mayo) and missed them all.

I've certainly wondered how the inconsistent playing time has affected the players on the UA bench. As a result it was very encouraging seeing guys like Fendi Onobun, Kirk Walters and Mohamed Tangara on their feed and fired up as the starters were putting the game away. I know none of those guys are playing as much as they hoped but it's great to see they've bought into the team concept.

The USC win set up the UCLA game as a nothing-to-lose measuring stick game and, well, weíre not tall enough for the big-kid rides just yet.

My one question is why did it take until there were twelve minutes left in the game for Jerryd Bayless to demand the ball and take it hard to the hoop? UCLA was decimating our screen game so it seems to me your best bet is to clear out for your best guy and have him try to beat his man off the dribble. Itís OK for your top gun to defer when things are going well (like Thursday night) but when the team is struggling your go-to player has to be the guy taking shots. Maybe they donít go in but at least go down shooting.

The combined 7-14 shooting from the free throw line indicates something just wasnít right with Jerryd this week. Thereís no excuse for star players losing focus and missing foul shots. Itís worth nothing that Jerrydís three worst Pac-10 games have come against UCLA, Stanford and USC, arguably the toughest teams weíll face in the conference. He may want to keep that in mind when it comes time to make future plans.

The Pac-10 champ of the future sure looks like the one from the recent past. Itís funny that when everyone was saying this could be a year when the Pac-10 winner has five losses UCLA posts an 8-1 the first time through the league. I guess there will be parity around here when Ben Howland says there is.

A 5-4 record for the Cats at the midway point isnít setting the league on fire but itís easy to argue weíre a 7-2 team if healthy. So the challenge in the second half is to go out and prove it.

Some may say the four-game win streak eliminated the pressure on the team but the reality is it's just a different kind of pressure. After the Stanford game there was pressure to save the season. Now as we prepare for the second lap around the Pac-10 the pressure is to win as expected. In that regard the ASU game is must-win. The actuality is we should win at least the next four, but we don't need to tell the team that. Just regroup, beat ASU, and go from there.

Hereís a goal for the next nine games: Beat every team that beat us. The rematches with ASU, Stanford and UCLA are at McKale so winning two of those three is not unreasonable. That leaves the road game against Oregon, but it's the final contest of the regular season so hopefully that means we'll be playing at our peak.

UCLA and Stanford have a nice cushion heading into the second half but sole possession of third place is there for the taking. That would be a solid accomplishment after a three-way tie for third last year and that ugly tie for fourth in '06.

Letís go ahead and beat ASU.


The tributes to Larry Smith over the past week have been excellent. It has been very nice reading all the quotes and memories. But I donít think enough has been made of a couple huge program milestones achieved during his tenure.

Before Larry Smith, Arizona had only been to four bowl games Ė never more than one a decade Ė and had lost them all. But in 1985, while we were still dealing with sanctions from the Tony Mason era, Coach Smith took us to the Sun Bowl where we battled a 7-3-1 Georgia team to a 13-13 tie.

The following season he improved on the first bowl non-loss in school history with an honest-to-goodness win over North Carolina in the Aloha Bowl. It was a bittersweet victory as it turned out to be Smithís final game at Arizona but you only get one first time and Larry Smith is the man who led the Wildcats to their first bowl win ever.

R.I.P. and Bear Down.

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