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Temporary Landing

March 30, 2009

(Louisville 103, UA 64)


Louisville is pretty good. We gotta get a coach like that.

As the clock was winding down you could sense the Arizona fan base metaphorically looking at Pitino the way that girl in the McDonald’s commercial looks at that Quarter Pounder with Cheese.

But let’s save the new-coach talk for now. The old coaches deserve a little bit more talk.

The one good thing about losing by 39 is you don’t have to waste a lot of time debating strategy. We’re able to just focus on what this team had to overcome and what these guys were able to accomplish.

The last few years have been a soap opera. A circus. It’s been a soap opera about a circus. And yet the 2009 Cats advanced into the second week of the dance and outlasted every other Pac-10 team.

We ended up beating seven teams who won their league’s regular season and/or tournament championship. You won’t find a better six-man team anywhere.

Russ Pennell will not be getting the permanent job, but he does get the title of Best Interim Coach. Even before the tournament run he had Kevin O’Neill beat. Beating Kansas and Gonzaga is better than almost beating Kansas and Memphis. 9-9 is better than 8-10. Fifth place is better than seventh place. Nobody transferred. Nobody may or may not have had secret meetings with Lute.

All things considered it was a calm year. As calm as a soap circus can get.

You can’t do anything but wish Pennell and Dunlap the best as they pursue their own programs. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the most successful guys from the “Lute coaching tree” ended up being two guys who never coached a game with Lute?

To whoever hires Pennell, here’s your marketing slogan: TRUSST. You like that? No charge. Consider it a going away present to my favorite ASU radio guy of all time.

You kept reading that this was Arizona’s 13th trip to the Sweet 16. The only problem is that’s not true. We’ve actually been to the round of 16 a total of 14 times. Yes, it’s 13 if you only count teams that won two tournament games. But the “Final Four” means you are among the last four teams, so any time you’re among the final 16 it should be counted as Sweet.

Let me be the first to introduce to you, Arizona’s 14th Sweet 16 team…the 1951 Wildcats! Yes, there were only 16 teams in the field and they lost in the first round, but math is math. Time to update the banner!

It’s always sad when your team exits but it allows you to focus on the rest of the tournament and facts like: This will the first time in four years the national champion won’t be coached by a guy named Bill.

What would you call the color of those Missouri uniforms? Burnt mustard? Fried banana? Somewhere there was an ASU fan going, “Whoa, nice threads.”

It was great to see the Sun Devils playing this weekend. Oh wait, that was just their logo on the court. Even when Sparky makes the Sweet 16 he just gets stepped on.

(Bonus cheap shot: If ASU basketball is happy with middle-of-the-Pac finishes and uninspiring postseason play, they could have saved money and just asked Dirk Koetter to switch sports.)

One more week of March Madness which means it’ll be another 49 weeks before my wife likes sports again. This year I introduced my four-year-old to the glory of the tournament by helping her fill out a not-for-profit bracket. She picked her parents’ alma maters to make it to the championship game. Unfortunately her parents went to Arizona and Cal State Northridge.

So right in the middle of a tense moment in the first game my daughter asks, “Daddy, why does your team have someone named Jordan? That’s a girl’s name.” It appears I’ve got some work to do.

We will almost certainly be saying good-bye to The Mountain and it’s much too soon. With the two extra games Jordan was able to sneak into 10th place on the UA’s career rebounds list with 763 boards. He also finished in the 6th spot with 140 career blocked shots. His final season averages were 18.3 points and one rebound above exactly 11 a game. It was one of the best individual seasons we’ve ever seen at Arizona and I’m proud to have witnessed it. Keep rising, Mr. Hill.

Perhaps the most important thing about the Sweet 16 run is it was like adding huge neon lights to our Help Wanted sign. The two wins reminded everyone that even in down times the UA attracts elite talent. No coach should doubt there is no limit to the sky here.

Now we wait and see who is ready to fly.



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