Closing Time


March 5, 2006

(at UA 66, WSU 61)
(Washington 70, at UA 67)


I blame the red blazer.

The Washington game encapsulated our entire season: Talented enough to lead for 39 minutes and 27 seconds; not-very-bright enough to lose in 33 seconds.

Good baseball teams have a closer. He's the pitcher you give the ball to with a slim lead and it's his job to finish out the win. The Arizona basketball team is desperately missing a closer. We have a point guard who can't get open on inbounds plays, a "go-to" senior who appears to have gone, and a freshman with a world of potential but he's at least a year away from being able to carry a team.

But we knew that already. We've long since passed the point where we can hope for significant individual improvement during this season. This team is what it is. They make you think they've turned the corner then the same mistakes happen again and you're left with an ill feeling. That's UA Basketball: Two Thousand Sicks.

On to the less-ugly game against Washington State: Were my eyes deceiving me or was Kirk Walters drawing double teams? My eyes also saw him draw 2 fouls in 7 minutes so they must be working.

Ivan Radenovic's mom and sister were in the stands. It's true! The Serbs are taking over!

WSU's style of play is painful to watch but I really like Josh Akognon. He takes a lot of early shots. Even better, he misses most of them.

The Cougars' Robbie Cowgill has clearly been working out. He must be up to 112 pounds now.

Bret. Mr. Brielmaier. Buddy. I love you, but the next time you find the ball in your hands with 1:25 left in a 4-point game, please pass it and go set another pick.

We gave up 40 points in the second half to a team that averaged 55 points a game in Pac-10 play. In their previous 6 games they had 5 halves in the teens including one 10. A 10-point half! Even ASU gets at least 13 points a half.

Back to Washington. I like Appleby's happy hour specials on boneless buffalo wings, but I don't like leaving him open for three.

Chris Rodgers is a very good catch-and-shoot three-point shooter. We need to take advantage of that. We also need him to not shoot anything else.

Hassan Adams has been my favorite Cat the past four years. I own a #21 Arizona jersey. That's why it's very hard for me to see his rapid decline from the beginning of the year until now. I know he's nursing a shoulder injury but his performance has been snowboarding down the Himalayas for a lot longer than last Thursday.

Adams averaged 23.9 points per game in December, 17.5 in January, and so far it's 12.4 in February and March. If the Hassan from the first Washington game ran into the Hassan from the second Washington game on the street, not only would he not recognize him, there would probably be some disturbing of the peace.

[This was before I learned about the DUI charge. Now I'm just really ticked off.]

We held Washington to 31 first-half points. We hit our first 5 three-point shots. Mustafa Shakur had 10 assists. And we still found a way to lose.

At least the UA baseball team has a closer. A very good one at that. Junior Mark Melancon, who happens to hold the school record for career saves, was up to his old tricks over the weekend. In two appearances he pitched a total of 8 1/3 shutout innings and recorded 9 strikeouts. He got the save in Friday's game and the win on Sunday. This is why his audition as a starter only lasted one game. I was no math major but I can see that two wins in a series are better than one.

Friday's victory over the Minnesota was especially satisfying to me. No, not because we beat a team on its home field. It wasn't because we avenged our loss to the Golden Gophers in the championship game of the 1956 College World Series either. It's because I just finished my own epic battle with a gopher. Take that, you Aureate Burrowing Rodents. Andy Lopez , my backyard thanks you.

--

So here we are. Arizona's basketball season is in the ninth inning. March 12th is Selection Sunday for the Big Dance. One week from now we'll either breathe a huge sigh of relief or we'll begin a summer of mourning and self-pity.

Theoretically the loss to Washington shouldn't matter. We have 18 wins and a strong RPI. We're the 4th best team in a power conference. This isn't a classic Arizona team, but this should be an NCAA Tournament team.

And here's why this loss better not matter. Arizona and Washington split in the regular season. The difference in the two games was a combined two points. The difference in the conference standings is one game. So why have the Huskies been ranked all season while the Cats have languished in bubbledom the last couple weeks?

At the same time Arizona was losing to #2 Connecticut, #15 North Carolina, and #23 Michigan State, all away from home, Washington was staying in Seattle and beating Morgan State, Wisconsin-Green Bay, Idaho, Cornell, and a school so generic it's called "American." Swap schedules and the Cats are at least 22-7 and our only worry is how hard we're going to complain about our brutal bracket.

The point is if the NCAA selection committee is going to reward a team for playing an easy schedule and punish another team for playing a difficult schedule when the two teams have proven to be almost identical on the court, it…well…it won't be very nice.

The good news is we haven't given up control yet. We still have a game Thursday afternoon against a Stanford team we've already beaten twice. Win it and we're off to March Madness beyond a shadow of a doubt. Win three games in L.A. and they couldn't keep us out if they wanted too. The Wildcats control their own destiny from here on out. We can spell our own relief.

Someone pass me the Rolaids.



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