At Ease


March 12, 2006

(Pac-10 Tournament)
(UA 73, Stanford 68)
(UCLA 71, UA 59)


And…exhale.

Even the most vehement "We're a lock" Cat fan had to be sweating at least a little bit when the first three regions were announced and Arizona was nowhere to be found. But we're in. We made it. 22 years and counting.

I feel like the parent of a child who was just caught juggling hand grenades. When they're back safely home you hold them tight and cry and tell them you love them, then you grab them by the shoulders and yell, "But don't EVER do that again!" If the 2006 Wildcats were my kids I'd ground them for three months, but I'm still proud of how they pulled it together at the end.

And I'm done. Color me satisfied. I don't care if we we're one-and-done. Seriously, I won't be disappointed (unless we blow a big lead again). Yeah, it'd be nice to keep the 20-win-season string going, but the most important streak is still intact. For the first time since New Year's Day I feel no fan pressure, and it feels great.

The Stanford win sealed the deal. Kirk Walters came out asleep at the wheel (he really needs to grow that beard back) but Bret Brielmaier jumped in and was a force at both ends of the court. He made a couple great moves against the Cardinal's senior center. You might say he kicked 'asz.

Ivan Radenovic has really developed a pretty shot. He had a couple over the weekend that dropped straight down from the sky and barely moved the absolute bottom of the net. When Ivan's on, he's got more arc than Noah.

What a bizarre melodrama this season has become. You had two troublesome senior guards, but all along Hassan Adams was viewed as the good guy while Chris Rodgers was the bad guy. They both were benched against Houston for breaking team rules, but Hassan accepted his punishment quietly while Chris mouthed off through media. Hassan got cited for disturbing the peace but the story was that he was defending a female friend. Chris was the one with the attitude problem who got booted off the team.

But here we were at Staples Center, with the season potentially on the line and it was Adams at home with another suspension and Rodgers was back in the starting lineup to save the day. Chris didn't have the best shooting day but he said a tournament record for steals in a game, and there he was hitting the big baseline jumper with a minute and a half to play. Pardon the excessively sappy metaphor, but on this day, it wasn't just the basketball that was a full circle.

What did we learn from the Pac-10 Tournament? We're better than Stanford, UCLA is better than us, and L.A.'s sky is dirty. Nothing else to report.

The league offices would like to thank Washington for assuring the Pac-10 got four teams into the NCAA Tournament. Let the record show that Lorenzo Romar didn't win anything with Nate Robinson and he's about to not win anything with Brandon Roy either. At least Ernie Kent was able to turn his temporary "new power" status into a real Pac-10 Championship.

After our game on Thursday I caught the late SportsCenter and ESPN's Stuart Scott referred to the Pac-10's leading scorer and rebounder multiple times as Leon "Pow" instead of "Poe" and he called Stanford the "Cardinals." Yeah, those east coast journalists give equal attention to our league.

Whatever happens this week, we know who our coach will be next year. The Arizona Board of Regents approved Coach Olson's latest extension so Lute officially has a contract through 2011. That boggles the mind. Aren't we supposed to have flying cars by then? If he chooses to fulfill the agreement, the King of Tucson will be a mere 76 years old when the contract expires. More boggling.

So we're playing Wisconsin on Friday March 17 in the first round of the 2006 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. Time for some Big Ten smack!

Just this week it was announced that Ohio State now has to remove its 1999 Final Four banner due to an athlete playing on a Maurice Clarrett Memorial Scholarship. That means the Buckeyes made a Final Four and won a football National Championship in a four-year span and they paid players to get both. Don't be too hard on Ohio State however as it is merely a product of its conference environment. Did you know that only three schools have had Final Fours stripped from them in the past 15 years? Michigan (twice), Minnesota, and now Ohio State. I guess if your conference can't count to ten, you have no choice but to cheat.

The Badgers have 19 wins, just like us. They finished tied for fourth in their league, just like us. They're bad away from home (5-9), just like us. They've lost their last 3 games and 4 of the last 5, which is even worse than us. It's probably going to be a close, low-scoring game. Maybe we can win it. If you're the type that loves a good battle cry, here you go:

This is for 2000! This is for the Hurricane Game!! This is for our slow winter traffic!!!

You gotta admit, overall our bracket doesn't look that bad. Yeah, the best we can hope for is Villanova in Philly, but there's no Duke or UConn to be seen. The Other Wildcats start four guards and three of them are under 6-3. Their big man is 6-8. Couldn't we cause them problems with our length and athleticism? Add to that the fact that their best player in the Big East Tournament now only has one eye and there's room for optimism. Of course we still have the problem of not being that good.

But you know who really won is UCLA. Nobody had them as high as the 2-seed they got and they can get to the Final Four without leaving California. Maybe the Pac-10 can salvage some respect yet.

Relax, Wildcat fans! We did it. We're back where we belong. Fill out your brackets, soak in all the previews, enjoy all the games on Thursday, and we'll see what happens on Friday. In March Madness, anyone can win.

Even the Arizona Wildcats.



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