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Ride On

March 23, 2009

(UA 84, Utah 71)
(UA 71, Cleveland State 57)

If you’ve only got one last ride you might as well make it a long one.

The second win in the NCAA tournament is much more valuable than the first. With the second win you get a new city and a new venue and a new set of goals. The baskets you shoot at hold the nets that someone will be cutting down as regional champion. If you’re still alive you’re in the discussion. You get a whole ‘nother week of Big Dancing.

And the Arizona Wildcats have two wins. Our team. The team that started the year getting Internet famous for all the wrong reasons. The team that won two whole road games. The team that lost three times to Arizona State. That team has two tournament wins.

In our program’s history we’ve lost to a 13-seed, a 14-seed and a 15-seed. Now we’ve won twice as a 12-seed. Isn’t it nice to be on the other side of that double-digit magic?

Just a week after the Sun Devils thought they had driven a stake through the heart of our streak, here we are, the basketball undead, sucking up blood all the way to Indianapolis.

The best part is ASU’s fans literally had tickets to see it. Of course, they were long gone from the arena, but somewhere in trash cans or littered on the Miami streets are crumpled up stubs commemorating the day the second worst UA team in the last quarter century outlasted the second best ASU team in that same span.

Arizona has 13 trips to the Sweet 16. ASU has 13 all-time tournament wins.

There’s no truth to the rumor that ASU is inquiring about the official name of the group that wins in the first round. Who needs the Sweet 16 when you’ve got the Thuper 32?

Thank goodness for Arizona. We have two 1-2-3-4 brackets and a 1-2-3-5 bracket. That 1-2-3-12 sticks out like a gloriously sore thumb.

Nic Wise’s uncovered head stood out as well. Did you notice Nic went without his traditional headband this weekend? It’s a good thing too since it was apparently weighing him down. Free the foreheads!

Speaking of attire, only in Utah would every player on the team have the same name on the back of his jersey.

Only Jamelle Horne can block his own dunk.

I greatly enjoyed the foul situation in the Utah game. Their star was on the bench early and all our fouls went to Horne and Johnson. The second game wasn’t quite as fun. When the Big 3 collected eight combined fouls in the first half I was sweating like that guy in the Axe antiperspirant commercial.

We can’t deny we caught a big break when Cleveland State pulled off the first-round upset. Two days after torching Wake Forest the Vikings were burning their own ships. Cedric Jackson made 3-of-4 threes against the Demon Deacons; he was 0-5 against us. CSU sank 6-of-15 (40%) from deep as a team vs. Wake; they clanged a 3-of-23 (13%) tune against the UA.

But I’m not apologizing. In the past two years we’ve lost seven players and our Hall of Fame coach (twice). No reason to feel guilty about a fortuitous shooting slump or two.

What’s a fairy tale without a good fake prophecy? “When He Of Much Fouling contributes for the good and the Pale One soars above the sand, a Wise Man shall lead them to a round greater than two.”

(Sweet 16 bonus: another week without having to talk about baseball. ASU swept us 4-1, 7-3 and – gulp – 23-7 to make the BatCats 0-8 against ranked teams and the early residents of the Pac-10 cellar. Play on, hoopsters. Play on.)

Here comes the #1 overall seed in the tournament. You would like our chances against Louisville a lot more if we were playing them after a short turnaround. They’re going to have all week to look at film and go, “Wow, look at all them there open threes.” I suppose the optimist would say this just means we’ll have a greater advantage against Michigan State on Sunday.

It’s a region filled with (we hope) subplots. Jim Livengood will be in the same building as both Rick Pitino and Tom Izzo, and at least one of them will be ending his season in Indianapolis. The dream scenario is Arizona beating both of them and starting an anti-bidding war to coach in Tucson.

“I’ll work for $500k!”
“I’ll take $450k and buy my own plane tickets!”
“Make it $395k and I’ll sweep up the place after games!”
“Give Russ all the money and I’ll coach for free!!”

Russ Pennell still isn’t going to be our permanent coach. But he has now earned the right to have some people upset that he isn’t hired. He’s going to be missed. He’s gone from caretaker to cared.

And the ride goes on.

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