February 19, 2006

(at Cal 75, UA 66)
(UA 76, at Stanford 72)

"Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in."

So said a wise bloodthirsty mobster. The quote fits because the way these Basket Cats have played has been a crime.

And yet hope lives on.

The Cal game was the same old off-key song and awkward dance. Let's fast forward through the game thoughts:

I like how Kirk Walters didn't back down from Leon Powe, but he's got the life expectancy of a fruit fly out there. You can't block every shot and, being 6-10 and pale, it's going to be awfully tough to hide.

J.P. Prince is so far in the doghouse Isaiah Fox is probably embarrassed for him.

I never thought I'd see to day when Cal beat us and didn't rush the court.

By the way, I don't care how frustrating this team is; at least Lute isn't out getting DUI's. Just pathetic. Yeah, you get held to a higher standard when your autograph is sprawled all over your home court in 500-point font. And then Oklahoma State announces that any wins the rest of the year will still be credited to Eddie Sutton, clearly to get him to the 800 victory mark. Cheers.

Quick baseball note: The Cats gave up 25 earned runs and committed 7 errors in losing 2 of 3 to New Mexico over the weekend. If pitching and defense wins championships, our young team has a bit of work to do.

Now to the good stuff.

Hey! A Hassan Adams sighting! Take off your coat and stay a while.

Who would've thought our best bet would be running the offense though Ivan Radenovic? The guy led the team in scoring, rebounding, and assists. Serb it up!

I'll say it: We don't win this game without Chris Rodgers. I had no problem with him getting kicked off the team, and I was very skeptical about bringing him back, but Lute made his team better.

Who is going to have worse nightmares about Rodgers, Hernandez or Haryasz? Hernandez hit 3 threes before Rodgers came in, and 3 more at the end, but in between we built a 14-point second-half lead. Chris R. was a big reason Chris H. turned it over 5 times and wasn't able to get his teammates involved (only 3 assists). And Haryasz was about ready to deck Rodgers.

That floor-burn-inducing tie-up in the late stages of the game was a thing of beauty. For a defensive specialist, it doesn't get any better than causing the other guy to lash out in frustrated anger without A) doing anything dirty (like undercutting someone or throwing an elbow), or B) even committing a foul.

This was the second straight game Lute used Rodgers and Dillon as a tag-team backcourt combo off the bench. Maybe they could be our Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff. Maybe not.

Did anyone else have to be revived after our possession with just under two minutes to play? The guys look confused on offense so Lute calls a timeout. That just makes them more confused. Instead of passing it to Adams (23 points), Radenovic (23 points), or Williams (11 points), Shakur dribbles around like a crazy man before hoisting up his only shot of the entire game…and it goes in. Nothing like skipping all the way to option eight in the game plan.

So we swept Stanford this year. Finally we swept somebody. Let that sink in for a second. Your Valentine's candy is long gone and we just now got our first Pac-10 sweep of the season.

It couldn't have come at a better time. With our 2-0 head-to-head record and superior strength of schedule and RPI, we've moved past Stanford for good no matter what the final Pac-10 standings might indicate. Now the selection committee can comfortably take four teams from our league without any funny business.

But that's assuming they do take a full four. If only two Pac teams besides the tournament champion get at-large bids, we're on the outside looking in. Arizona is clearly team #4 so we still have work to do before we're comfortable about our 22nd consecutive Big Dance.

I think our prospects are pretty simple at this point: Win 3 more games. Nineteen wins and we're in for sure. Eighteen wins and we're sweating come Selection Sunday. Seventeen and we ask ASU fans for suggestions on what to do in March.

I know a mere 18 or 19 wins sounds pretty poor to us, but they get you into the NCAA's fairly often. Just last year UCLA (18-10), Stanford (18-12), Iowa State (18-11), Georgia Tech (19-11), and NC State (19-13) all went dancing. Nobody got an at-large bid with fewer than 18 wins. Our band of heartbreakers certainly can't ease up, but we do control our own destiny.

Back to the Devilish Ones. Did you notice that ASU is now 3-for-3 after we lose on the road? Oregon State, USC and Cal all beat us on Thursday before losing to the Devils on Saturday. Washington State was our only Thursday road win, and they beat ASU by 15. Coincidence? All I know is Evans better make sure he spells Olson with two O's on those checks.

I'm not quite sure how this bubble stuff works. Am I supposed to be rooting for Washington to win since we beat them and it makes us look good, or should I be hoping they lose so we get back ahead of them in the standings? Do we want to play UW in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament, meaning we'd face the Huskies twice in six days, or do we hope to draw Stanford so we can attempt to beat them for a third time? I miss the good old days of worrying about getting stuck with a 2 seed.

So we need a trilogy of wins. It doesn't matter how we get them, but it sure makes sense to win the next two home games against a couple lower division teams. Then if things stay the way they are, we'd have two games (at home against Washington and one at Staples Center in the 4/5-seed game) to try and get one more win. If we want to get a 20th win to lock things up, I sure won't complain.

A chance at playoff games. It's an offer I can't refuse.

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