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February 24, 2009

(at ASU 70, UA 68)

All good things must come to an end. Even hairy things.

With 5-of-16 shooting, Chase Budinger – our Samson of the Chin – picked a bad night to be off. The only thing more embarrassing would have been if they had shaved him after the game.

Actually, that would’ve been kind of cool. Budinger and James Harden should have set up a beard-off where the loser had to get shorn at midcourt. After the game they could have tied Chase down while the ASU cheerleaders and their way with his whiskers. Oh yeah!

(My apologies. That sounded a lot more like a Comcast Tucson Super Bowl broadcast than I intended. Look for a $10 credit on your next statement.)

It would have been the greatest play ever. Wise takes the outlet pass near midcourt with five seconds left. He angles right with every Devil hustling to stop him. Suddenly Nic passes back to a trailing Chase at the top of the key. He lets it fly for the win…

With a greater level of play comes greater expectations which lead to greater pain when you fail. In that sense it’s good to feel bad. This team is good enough to hurt us again.

I could do without the harm coming from our least-liked foe though. Now that the UCLA losing streak is over who has the longest active winning streak against us? Well, Stanford for one, since the Cardinal beat us three times last year and the first time this year. But if we’re able to beat a 4-10 team at home on Senior Day it means the longest carryover losing streak will be the four to the Sun Devils.

Our current nemesis is Arizona State. In basketball. It's enough to make Lute climb into a grave just so he can turn over in it.

Coach Olson did a lot of things well but the thing he may have done best of all was beat Arizona State. In fact, there isn’t a single team he beat more often than ASU. He got the Devils and WSU 43 times each, Cal 41 times and USC 39. Lute’s 43-6 record against Those Guys is a .878 winning percentage. I can’t even successfully tie my shoes 88% of the time.

That percentage is also roughly the rate at which ASU sank three-pointers in the first half. I still don’t think we’ve closed out on that Latvian guy. We couldn’t find their Coccyx with both hands.

And yet we came all the way back, thanks in large part to not one but two “No, no, no…YES!” shots from Jamelle Horne. In fact, during our glorious 25-6 run to retake the lead we got more than half our points – 14 to be exact – from the Other 3.

The one shot you want back is the missed three by Chase with a minute and a half left and a one point lead. No, I don’t want it back so he doesn’t take it; I just want him to make it this time.

I’m perfectly fine with the shot. It was an open look for one of our best players. It was the equivalent of passing on 3rd-and-long to try and pick up the first down and ice the game. It was playing to win.

Contrast that with Herb Sendek having his team try to run out the clock with nine minutes left. Or calling a timeout with 10 seconds left on the shot clock and two minutes left in the game only to draw up an air ball. Coaching tight gets your players tight so your 86% free throw shooter misses the front end of a one-and-one (or, for example, your closer blows a save as a heavy favorite at the College World Series).

That’s not to take anything away from this ASU victory. When you make 13 threes and build a 17-pont second-half lead you deserve to win. It’s just that the skittishness was noticeable and it will be interesting to watch how the Devils handle the pressure down the stretch.

This is unfamiliar territory for the Sunnies and Herb. We all know that ASU has fewer Pac-10 basketball championships than Idaho (and just as many as Tempe High School). And Sendek hasn’t won a league title since he conquered the MAC 14 years ago.

This is a golden opportunity for the Gold and Brownish. UCLA is having its twice-a-decade non-elite year, Arizona is going through a once-every-quarter-century transition, and Mike Montgomery isn’t yet established at Cal. If there was ever a year for someone else to win the Pac-10 this is it.

So who’s it going to be? ASU and Washington (led by another coach who has never won anything) finally get that first-place showdown they bumbled away the first time around. Let’s just say I’m rooting against the new King of Beards.

In the undercard Thursday night we’ll see how well our Wildcats rebound from a tough loss. Coming back from a huge deficit only to lose is like being pardoned from death row and then getting hit by a bus on the way home.

The fleeting hope of stealing a 12th Pac-10 title is gone. Now we get back to the realistic – and not yet achieved – goal of locking up another tournament bid.

We gotta find a way to get a win this week. One more road victory puts us in great shape to all-but-clinch a tournament spot at home next week. Two more wins this year to stay alive; three wins to thrive.

After all this growth, coming up short just won’t cut it.


You didn’t think I was going to ignore the start of the baseball season, did you? Our inexperienced BatCats won the opening series but looked shaky doing it (11 errors in the three games). The good news is the UA is at home the next four weekends so you can see how they shake for yourself.

Take you out to the ball game!

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