Last Grasp

March 10, 2008

(UA 81, at OSU 45)
(at UO 78, UA 69)


The Wildcats had a chance to end their season on Thursday and extend their season on Saturday. They didn’t do either. Does that make the week half full or half empty?

For one night at least everything was back to normal. Nic Wise was on the floor, scoring and assisting. Jordan Hill was picking up his first foul after 68 seconds. Jerryd Bayless was getting knocked around. And the Cats won going away.

After scoring 6 points in 7 minutes we scored 75 points in 33 minutes. It’s a good thing Oregon State is really, really bad.

An interesting part about Wise’s return is he immediately stepped into the starting lineup, even though he was coming off the bench before he got hurt. Most guys are afraid of losing their job while they sit out, but Nic got a promotion.

Everyone knows Wise, Bayless, Budinger, McClellan and Hill are our five best players but do you how many times we actually started with that lineup before this week? Two. At Houston and at Stanford. I guess the days of pretending we have a bench are over.

Is it coincidence that the two longest injuries happened to Nic and Bret, two guys missing a consonant at the end of their first name? Yes? OK, just checking.

The dream didn’t last long as the Oregon game was back to recent-normal. We battled, even while short-handed, but we didn’t have enough to keep up.

They say the best players leave it all on the floor. Someone should tell Chase that doesn’t include the contents of your stomach.

Unfortunately Oregon got the Washington scouting report. Their guys had obviously been instructed to push, grab, bump and clutch Bayless and Budinger every chance they got, knowing they stood a good chance of winning a battle of attrition. The Ducks even employed the ol’ we’ll-get-a-double-foul-with-your-20-points-per-game-guy-and-our-4-points-per-game-guy-and-call-it-even tactic.

I knew we needed Oregon to shoot poorly to have a chance to win, and they did…for a half. Team Neon only shot 2-10 on 3’s in the first half and, naturally, we had a 3-point lead. But you knew we were in trouble when Tajuan Porter made three 3’s in about three seconds. When the fourth trey went down you thought, “If they don’t cool off quick we’re done.” When Hill and Bayless both had four fouls with ten minutes to play you thought, “See you on Wednesday.”

Seriously, eight straight 3-pointers? Are you kidding me? Granted they weren’t the most contested of shots but most teams can’t make eight straight free throws. Oregon only missed three total shots in the second half, and one of them was in garbage time. In comparison the Cats missed 19 shots after halftime. So, yeah, we didn’t win.

I know this year’s team is thin, hurt and talent-challenged but I still never expected a losing conference record. Or 7th place. Seventh place! Closer to 9th place than 4th. Wow. I mean…you know…uh…yeah.

All sorts of streaks came to an end but the most important one remains. Even after historic horribility we still have a chance to make the NCAA tournament. Dance the Dance. March the Madness. It’s still within our grasp.

But can we grasp it?

To the selection committee we’re 17-13. If we find a way to lose on Wednesday to end the year at 17-14/8-11 – including losing the last two out of three at full strength – I don’t see how you let us in no matter what the strength of schedule and RPI numbers say. It’s just too many losses. So this week’s Oregon State game is must-win, just like last week’s Oregon State game was must-win. That worked out pretty well, so let’s hope for a repeat performance.

On the flip side if we can beat OSU and Stanford we would finish no worse than 19-14/10-11 and I don’t see how you keep us out with the strong computer numbers. It’s just too many wins.

Now, beating OSU and losing to Stanford for a third time? That gives the committee 18-14 overall and 9-11 against Pac-10 teams. The strength of schedule is still high but the RPI takes another hit from playing OSU again. And we’d be finishing up with an un-hot 4-8 in our last 12 games. Is that enough to get the NCAA tournament appearance streak up to 24 years?

My gut says yes. This year’s bubble is weak and we should get some extra credit for the injuries, and a lot of extra credit for scheduling real teams. But the fact of the matter is if we don’t win two more games I will not be a comfortable Cat until CBS flashes “Arizona” on the screen without “Biggest Snubs” above it.

The other fact of the matter is we haven’t won two games in a row since January.

Hold on.

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There were reports of inclement weather in Corpus Christi over the weekend but it turned out to be just the Arizona baseball team ripping through town. The BatCats beat three teams in three days by a combined score of 37-0. They weren’t the greatest three teams in the world but one of them was a school called Notre Dame so that’s always fun.

It’s also good experience for the team to travel, live out a suitcase a little bit, and be successful in a strange ballpark. It’s a little more challenging than playing all your games at home like, oh I don’t know, the Arizona State Sun Devils.

ASU has extended its “How To Make Wins and Influence Voters” philosophy of scheduling to baseball and the Devils won’t be leaving Phoenix until April 4th. No one’s saying ASU isn’t one of the best teams in the country this year, but don’t be intimidated if you take a peek at the rankings in a few weeks and see the Sunnies on top with a gaudy 28-0 record. The Pac-10 schedule makes you actually consult a travel agent so we’ll see how we stack up with them then.

It’s a long road.



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