Unexpected Expectations

January 22, 2006

(at UA 90, Stanford 81, OT)
(at UA 60, Cal 55)

Two potential starters disappear for the rest year, and two more painfully close basketball games. Just another week at the office for the '05-'06 Wildcats.

Lute kicked a senior off the team. Our newly eligible spark went down with a season-ending injury. What is going on around here? Did Rob Evans get a hold of some voodoo dolls?

For those of you who wanted a team with fewer stars and more hustle guys, here you go. Enjoy the rest of your blowout-win-free season.

Arizona/Stanford games have been really big the last few years, but usually not like this. The Cardinal hadn't won a road game all year and the Cats had lost all over the place. Pulling out the win, no matter how it was done, was really big for Lute's new-look squad.

Dan Grunfeld looks like he's 38 and it seems like he's averaged 38 against us. It was a big deal to hold him to one three-pointer and 12 total points.

Twelve assists! That wasn't Tupac out there. Mustafa had two plays at the end of the game that looked like honest-to-goodness point guard plays. The first was the drive to the hoop and behind the head pass on the money to Walters when the Red big man came over to help. The other was the spin past Hernandez in the lane into the double-pump and-one lay-up over Haryasz to give us a four-point lead with a minute and change left in OT. Add his clutch free throws down the stretch and you have hope we could still see solid play at the 1 for the next year and a half.

Maybe it's just coincidence, but Shakur seemed a lot more relaxed, a lot more confident, and he certainly was a lot more productive this weekend. Maybe we traded Chris Rodgers for a Pac-10 caliber point guard.

We scored a mere 27 points in the entire second half to blow our 11-point lead, then score 17 in the five minute overtime. I guess we were saving our points for dessert.

So that gave us four Pac-10 wins with half of them coming in overtime. We're now 3-1 in OT on the season. That has to count for something. As in, we stink at the end of the second half but do pretty well in the extra session.

Usually the best way to get to overtime is give us the ball with no shot clock in the tie game, but this time we actually came through on the final defensive possession against Stanford. Sure, it took a no-call after three guys made contact with Haryasz (it's so hard not to spell his name phonetically) but we'll take it.

(It's also really hard to avoid making jokes like, "Get your Taj Finger away from my Haryasz!")

On to the Cal game. So that's what a Big East game looks like.

Here's my impression of ABC's commentary in the first half: "Monster. Monster. High-hand monster. Monstering the monster." It was a like subliminal message telling me to update my resume online.

ABC redeemed itself with the shot from the UA Rec Center pool. There's never a bad time for one of those.

How 'bout that board work? Eleven rebounds for Marcus (that's an average of 8 for his last 3 games) and 9 each for Hassan and Ivan. Although, the way our guys shoot you'd expect they'd be good at chasing down misses.

Put me on the Fendi bandwagon. In fact, I'm calling shotgun. His play in his first two games (an identical 6 points on 3 of 4 shooting in each game) makes you wonder why he was redshirting in the first place. It sure wasn't so he could add muscle. A word to the rest of the Pac-10: When Mr. Onobun pulls down a rebound, duck.

Very nice weekend from Isaiah Fox. Six points and 4 boards against Stanford, and 3 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, and 1 steal (a triple single!) against Cal. Can we take Fox off the endangered species list?

Ugly? Yes. Sweaty? Very much so. But I'm always happy with consecutive wins over the 'Ford and the 'Fornia.

As far as the standings? Get back to me in two weeks after our trip to L.A. Four straight road games will give our players (and their fans' repertory systems) all they can handle. Right now the important thing is to continue to establish the remaining players' roles, get better each day, and hopefully win some more games.

Next up is a date with Robby E's Sunshine Boys. ASU is clearly the worst team in the league but they still play hard. They've lost to USC and UCLA by 1, Stanford by 3, and they won at Oregon State. In other words they're 8 points away from having the same record as us.

The Devils are frustrated, they're desperate, and they have to be embarrassed by those uniforms. Add our laundry list of weaknesses and this has all the makings of a brutal slugfest. May Lute have cause to point at the scoreboard again.

Speaking of our septuagenarian court general, the other big news this week was that Coach O is about to be presented with yet another contract extension. If he sees this one to completion in 2011 he'll be more than a decade past the standard retirement age. That ain't young.

The question is what can we expect from Lute the rest of his time here? What should we expect from him? The man has given us a National Championship, 4 Final Fours, and 11 Pac-10 championships. Isn't that enough? Aren't we a little selfish to expect--maybe even demand--more?

I think "demand" is too strong a word for sports fans when dealing with any between-the-lines issues. But expect? Yeah. We can expect more top-tier success from Lute. He certainly expects it from himself.

John Wooden only won 16 conference championships. (If you can use "only" to describe anything the Greatest Of All Time did. It's akin to saying, "God only created one inhabitable world.") Lute's probably not going to be around to break Pac-10 titles record. But if he wins the league a couple more times in the next five years, suddenly he's only three behind the Wizard and Lute's legend grows even more.

As far as the national scene, I don't think anyone can expect championships in college basketball. A six-game one-and-done tournament makes winning it all such a crap shoot once you get to the final weekend. If Coach Olson finishes with only (there's that word again) the one championship, not one person has any right to complain.

But being in a position to play for championships is another story. Lute has no one to blame but himself for this one. His program is just too good not to expect to be in the hunt for the Final Four every other year or so. The level of talent he brings in each year dictates that expectations should continue to be exceptionally high.

The Cats have made it to the Elite Eight twice in the last three years. We were one (insert your choice of plays here) from the Final Four #5 last year. There is no reason to expect anything less than opportunities like that. Probably not this year, but next year and repeatedly in the next few years. Even if Lute is coaching as a 75-year-old.

Expect it.

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