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January 12, 2009

(at UA 67, UO 52)
(at UA 64, OSU 47)

They say to be the best you have to beat the best. Well, to not be the worst you have to not lose to the worst.

Mission accomplished. This Arizona team is not going to go 0-18 or 1-17. Weíre not the next Oregon State. Itís a start.

Even if itís only a small start. Playing the Oregon schools at home is the easiest weekend in the Pac-10 this year. The Beavers already have more wins than last year, but theyíre still more likely to score 45 than 65. The Ducksí leading scorer is a 5-6 guy who is shooting 37% from the floor. This is not your typical Nike U, Hoops Edition team.

Itís not vintage Arizona either, so thatís why the wins still feel good. You also saw some individual progress this weekend which is great.

As we discussed before a big part of this year will be tracking the development of individual players, and the first step toward developing your skills is building your confidence. Jamelle Horne, for example, is clearly growing more confident. He has recovered from The Tackle and is now a factor on both ends of the court. Heís averaging 11 points and seven rebounds a game since being benched against Kansas. Heís wearing a Mohawk for crying out loud. You donít sport a two-decade-old haircut if youíre not feeling good about yourself.

But the most encouraging boost of athletic self-esteem has to be that of Zane Johnson. He burned his redshirt 15 games into the season last year and only ended up playing more than eight minutes in a game only once after that. Now you can see he believes he belongs at this level. Heís driving to the basket, heís rebounding, and heís pulling the trigger on his jumper as the six 3-point attempts against Oregon would testify. I donít care that he only made one of them. Fire away, young man!

Jamelle and Zane are going to be seniors on the new coachís second team. If thatís going to be the year we get back to Arizona Basketball, we need those two guys to be strong players. And that strength training starts now.

In the short term weíre missing some strength because The Mountain is really laboring out there. Jordan is still a rebounding machine (in conference play heís actually improved on his 12 per game average) but on the offensive end heís not his usual ferocious self. Heís laying up shots that are normally dunks, and softly jamming attempts that are usually violent enough to warrant parental discretion.

If Jordanís leg injury is going to linger we need to find a way to rest him, even if it means waving the white flag a bit early in some games. In other words, the opposite of the Cal game when he played 39 minutes in a 14-point loss. We do not want to see the depth of the valleys with a long Mountain-less stretch of games.

(Random coaching candidate update: North Carolina is now 0-2 in the ACC. Cross that Williams bum off the list.)

((I know heís not a candidate, but maybe he should be. We have a 2-2 coach we could trade for him.))

(((As far as real candidates, how can you not like Jamie Dixon right now? Heís only got the #1 team in the land. At this point heís either going to be Arizonaís next coach or Pittsburghís disgustingly wealthy coach next year.)))

Wildcat point totals smaller than the January temperature will still take some getting used to, but our guys won twice this past weekend, and thatís big. The hopes of the season have not ended just yet.

If youíre going to find nine more wins (for 20 total) out of the rest of the schedule itíll have to look like this: win at USC on Saturday, beat either ASU or Houston (who just beat UAB by 19) at home, sweep the Washingtons at home, sweep the Oregons on the road, beat USC at home, split at the Washingtons, and split against the Bay Areas at home.

Probable? No, since thatís essentially assuming a six-game win streak from Houston through the second USC game. And, no, since there are four road victories in there, and our next true road win this year will be our first.

Possible? As of today it is, so letís get a win in L.A. and go from there.

Bear Down? Always.

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