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Significant Pain

March 9, 2009

(Cal 83, at UA 77)
(at UA 101, WSU 87)

When times are good you want to be with friends. With times are tough you really want to be with friends. The only thing worse than suffering is having someone you can’t stand there to see it.

Welcome to our worst case scenario.

ASU round 3. Beat them for the first time since 2007 and we probably get to play further into March. But if the agony is prolonged, it’s going to be some big-time agony.

At first glance it doesn’t appear the Sun Devils have much motivation to win at Staples Center on Thursday. They swept us head-to-head. They finished ahead of us in the standings. They’re a lock for the Big Dance. Is there really much to be gained by moving from a 6-seed to a 5-seed?

But the Devil is in the details, my Sonoran Desert friends. We ended their dreams of a first-ever Pac-10 hoops championship by blowing our lead at Washington. So after indirectly knocking them out of the Basketball Rose Bowl they can get revenge by ending the second greatest sports accomplishment in UA history.

The NCAA tournament streak is going to end someday. If it’s not this Sunday, in all likelihood it’ll quietly end 52 Sundays later. So it’s not like the Devils would be destroying a dynasty that had no signs of relinquishing power. It would be more like David beating an elderly Goliath who had a bad back and cataracts. And they’ve been more Goliathish lately, having beaten us four straight times.

But long streaks only die once, and to be the hand on the hilt of the sword that severs the head of your bitterest foe? When it comes to sticking it to your rival there aren’t many opportunities greater than that.

So in that regard it’s the most significant UA/ASU sporting event in a long time. Sure, they’ve had any number of chances to keep us from a Pac-10 hoops crown but they were never a real threat. On the football side we had the 1996 game where we had a shot at ruining their perfect season, or 1985 when we did succeed in knocking them out of the Real Rose Bowl. Other than that you have to go back to Game 14 of the 1976 College World Series where the loser went home and the winner advanced to the championship game.

The point is: This noon basketball game is a really big deal, even if we wish it weren’t.

You would hope it wouldn’t come down to this. The Arizona brand still carries weight in college basketball. That’s got to count for something, right?

The way I look at it, it should be like a no-hitter. The unwritten rule among baseball official scorers is the hit that breaks up a late-inning no-no needs to be clean. So if the third baseman tries to make a bare-handed grab on a slow roller and he bobbles it to let the runner reach, it probably gets scored a hit in a typical game, but it might be an error with a no-hitter on the line.

Arizona Basketball deserves to be charged with an error.

This is history we’re talking about. If a streak of this magnitude – the second longest ever – is going to get snapped it should be a without-a-doubt situation. If everyone leaves who is expected to leave and next year’s stunningly outmanned team posts a losing record, there’s no controversy. Streak over. No hard feelings.

But at 19-13? Do you really want to be the committee that breaks Arizona’s string because you thought the eighth place team in the Big Ten is a hair more worthy?

These are the scenarios you’re faced with when you don’t take care of business yourself. Like an unmotivated employee this Wildcat team has only done the minimum. Good enough to be in the discussion; bad enough to be fired.

Good enough to score 100 points in regulation; bad enough to complete a losing streak that was The Worst Since Lute’s first season.

Cal and Stanford definitely read the scouting report. Spread your best shooters around the perimeter, move the ball, let it fly. Again and again and again.

At least in the Stanford game we were able to out-sprint them. But here’s when you know you have a bad defense: You’re shooting 68% from the floor (17 of 25) with three minutes left in the first half…and you’re up 5.

Updating the Kylefoggorean Theorem: We are 14-4 when Fogg hits two field goals, and 9-1 when he sinks three.

The Bagga-pit on Saturday is what college sports are all about. You’ve got future NBA millionaires jumping around like eight-year-olds because their less-talented buddy made his second basket of the year. It sure would be nice to see these guys play some more, wouldn’t it?

So here we go. A midweek lunch date filled with anxiety and a lot of sweating. Follow it up with a Sunday where history will be made.

Let’s hope it’s the good kind.

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