March 26, 2006

(at UA 5, UC-Irvine 1)
(UC-Irvine 7, UA 1)

I guess this tournament can be interesting even after Arizona goes home.

I had a chance at a perfect Final Four in my more-than-just-for-fun pool heading into this week. Sure enough I was perfect on Saturday night (UCLA and, that's right, LSU), but I was foolish enough to think two 1-seeds could each win a fourth game so I was perfectly imperfect on Sunday.

If you're in the mood to get sick take a look at Villanova's 3-point shooting against each tournament opponent:

Monmouth 7-25 (28%)
Arizona 9-19 (47%)
Boston College 4-19 (21%)
Florida 4-23 (17%)

One of these things is not like the other. You could argue our "best defensive team ever" might have had something to do with that, or you could just wonder what might have been.

As an Arizona fan this year, I can't talk about a team that made the Elite Eight, but if I were, say, a George Mason Patriot fan right now I'd definitely say something like:

U-Con. Is that short for convict, or con-men?

I also just might have some jokes about Denham Jacket, Hilton Sister and Maybe Gay.

So how about that George Mason? Who the heck is George Mason? No, he wasn't the first guy to build something with bricks. It turns out Mr. Mason was the Founding Father whom Thomas Jefferson called the "wisest man of his generation."

GMU is actually a big school outside of Washington, D.C., with just under 30,000 students spread over three campuses. The Patriots were an 11-seed. That means they weren't even in the Elite Eight in their own region. And now they have one more Final Four banner than Arizona State.

Remember all that fuss about a team like George Mason getting an at-large bid in the first place? Well, the bubble just got lot smaller for big conference teams next year.

On to baseball, and my birthday celebration went perfectly except for the outcome of the game. It was a beautiful day and I stuffed myself with ballpark food. But how can the Concessions at Kindall Field at Sancet Stadium not sell Cracker Jack? It's un-American! Why not just make the players wear knickers and hit the ball with flat bats?

The other big question from the ball yard: How can a guy named Colt not wear number 45? Thomas Magnum would've certainly worn 44 and you would have no choice but to give Johnny Aykay 47.

My idea to sing "Bear Down" after every run didn't work so well since I only got to sing it once and that was in the bottom of the 9th. Hopefully people get sick of my singing after the next game.

So, yeah, the Bat Cats still aren't hitting too well. The good news is we got a win on Saturday to snap the 6-game losing streak, but it was slow--make that no-going on Sunday. No extra-base hits, no stolen bases and 14 runners left on base. That means the Wildcats are taking a losing record into Pac-10 play next week. Not so good. But the only way young players become old players is to play, so that's what we'll do, starting at Cal. Beat the Bears.


With the basketball season now complete we can view the entire year in perfect hindsight. This roadmap will have to be three-dimensional because the road sure was bumpy.

The season started with the stacked Maui Invitational. Every school in the field but two had won a National Championship. One was the host and the other was Gonzaga. So going 1-2 wasn't that big a deal, especially after keeping UConn within single digits and only losing to Michigan State by 3 in overtime.

The next hiccup was at Houston but there were excuses for that one too as two senior starters were scolded for the entire first half. Wouldn't it have been nice if being late for a meal were the only problem we had with Hassan Adams and Chris Rodgers?

A 5-game win streak to end the preseason gave the appearance of righting the ship but there were curiously close games against NAU and Western Kentucky. We knew things weren't right as we prepared to start the conference schedule on the road. UA fans were hoping for a split and fearing a sweep.

Then the unthinkable happened: We won both games. Washington State was surprisingly easy then we ended Washington's long home winning streak in a double-overtime thriller. Hassan Adams was Sean Elliot and Steve Kerr combined and all was right in the world.

The honeymoon continued even with a home loss to UCLA because we beat USC and were in first place at 3-1 as we prepared to hit the road again.

Then the unthinkable happened: We lost both games. The Oregon schools that went on to finish 7th and 8th in the conference swept the Wildcats. After that a whole string of bad things happened. The team dropped out of the polls for good. Jawann McClellan was lost to a torn wrist ligament. Chris Rodgers was lost to a thick skull. We lost three games in a row. It was the Arizona Basketball equivalent of a tsunami.

It's interesting that the two games with the lowly Ducks of Oregon ended up being perhaps the most significant of the year. The early season loss on the road told everyone this team wasn't very good and the off-court turmoil overflowed. When the second Oregon game came around things were bad and, with just a minute left, things looked a lot worse.

In those final 60 seconds, the Cats overcame a 5-point deficit and saved their season. If we drop to 13-10 and 6-6, we don't bounce back and we have no NCAA Tournament appearance and nothing positive to build on. Lots of remote controls in Tucson are smash beyond repair.

But we didn't lose that game. The Cats pulled out the win and went on to blow out Oregon State with the help of the Subway Fan of the Game. That week was the start of a 6-3 run to end the season that locked up a 22nd-consecutive NCAA bid. Aaaaaah.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing was after the Washington road trip this team couldn't put together two good games in the same week. Only twice did we win twice in a week (the Bay schools and the Oregon schools at home) and each time we had a poorly played game that should have been lost (Stanford in OT and the SOS Oregon game).

That changed in our final week of the year however. The Wisconsin beating was a thing of beauty, and taking Villanova to the limit on their alternate home floor was a very strong performance. If you're going to have an up-and-down year it's much better to end on an up and this team certainly did.

Let's hope next year's elevator gets stuck on the top floor.

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