Shift

December 4, 2006

(at UA 89, UNLV 75)
(UA 84, Illinois 72)


Isn't it amazing how quickly things change? On Friday November 24 we were watching a football game to see if we could tie for third place in the conference. By the end of Saturday November 25 our season was completely over.

That means it's time for me to break out the 1998 Holiday Bowl t-shirt I got off of eBay, and it's time for the three words that a football-first fan most dreads:

It's basketball season.

This was one of those rare occasions where I got to see two UA hoops games in the same week. I saw the Cats beat UNLV in Tucson and defeat Illinois in Phoenix. It was like I was an international sports playboy (minus 49 states, two countries and six continents).

For the Illinois game I had the greatest seats of my life. You know what they say: It's not where you sit. It's who you sit next to.

I was close enough to hear what the players were saying. I was close enough where my taunts could actually be effective. I was close enough to see the valve stems on the Suns Dancers.

Random question about the Arena Formerly Known As American West: How is an Arena Football League title considered a "World Championship"? Wouldn't that be like getting a ring made after winning your fantasy league?

(Final football thought: UCLA over USC. Washington over WSU. ASU over Arizona. Never, ever underestimate your rival.)

My ticket was so good it came with a bracelet. You know when you're watching a game on TV and you see those guys walking around behind the announcers like they don't even know there's a game going on? I was one of those guys!

I spent most of the second half of the Gonzaga/Texas game back in Magic Bracelet Land. I got to see our team enter the building and I got close enough to Lute where I could have hit him with a kernel of complimentary popcorn.

After some more chatting with nicely dressed fans and classy alumni I remembered I was wearing a tank top jersey, shorts and a red cowboy hat. It was then that I said to myself, "You look ridiculous." And then I grabbed more complimentary popcorn.

(Last pigskin point, I promise: Can the Pac-10 please win the Holiday Bowl for a change? I keep saying our second place team should be playing another league's second place team and yet we've lost to the Big-12's third place team for two consecutive years and four out of the last five. Cal, quit moping about not going to the Rose Bowl. Stop whining about missing out on a BCS bowl. Win the Holiday Bowl.)

I got back to my seat in time to notice that even though Fendi Onobun isn't getting much playing time he's still contributing to the team. Fendi Cent is the best Player Introduction Designated Chest Bumper I've ever seen.

(Oh, who am I kidding? Another thing, Berkeley. If you are going to get depressed that you aren't playing in Pasadena, remember who it was that crushed your dreams. That's right, the Arizona Wildcats. Beat us and you win the Pac-10 outright. Now we're even for 1993.)

There was a lot of orange up at U.S. Airways Center, and not just the burnt Texas kind. It was mainly raw. Like orange sushi if you will.

Illinois had 25 points by the under-12 timeout. The Illini started so hot I began having Deron Williams flashbacks. But then we picked things up on the offensive glass, upped the defensive intensity and, wouldn't you know it, Illinois players do miss shots sometimes.

So now we shift from the frustration that comes with rooting for a rebuilding team to the anxiety that comes with cheering on a team with championship aspirations. Everyone's saying the league will once again come down to UCLA and Arizona, and it should.

In fact, when you look at Pac-10 titles among active coaches in the conference, the list looks like this:

Lute Olson, Arizona 11
Ben Howland , UCLA 1
Ernie Kent, Oregon 1

That's it. Until Mike Montgomery comes back, nobody else in the league has done squat. Actually, all anybody has done is squat, as in tremble in the shadow of the Lute. Keep that in mind the next time someone mentions Lorenzo Romar and Washington as a western "power."

Speaking of powerful stuff, there's a lot of history to be made in the near future. Everyone talks about our current 22-consecutive NCAA tournament appearances being the second most all time after North Carolina's 27 straight, but it bugs me that no mentions that UNC did it with two coaches. Dean Smith was only around for 23 of them (1975-1997), which means that if Arizona gets into the Big Dance this season Lute Olson will tie the all-time consecutive appearances record for a single coach. Get back to the NCAAs in 2008 and he owns the greatest streak of all time.

Another thing that isn't getting nearly enough press is the fact that right now Lute Olson is tied for the all-time coaching record with 27 appearances in the NCAA tournament. Assuming this year's team doesn't disintegrate Lute will pass Dean Smith on this list, and if Texas Tech doesn't make March Madness Lute will stand alone. Just in case you needed another reason to root against Bobby Knight.

The point of all this? Lute Olson is really, really good. But a little dose of reality: This past spring was the 50-year reunion for Lute's college graduation class. I command you all to squeeze every ounce of enjoyment from this upcoming Arizona basketball season. These are the Good Old Days.

Because of this you can see why there's a sense of urgency with this team. It would also help explain why Coach O is relying on the starters for 92% of the minutes and 100% of the scoring in the sixth game of the year. We don't know how many more shots at truly great seasons are left in the legendary gun so you've got to make them count while you can still squeeze the trigger.

Is there any chance we can schedule a few extra games this year? Like 50? I like having a team that scores 84 points on an off night. I like being able to spread the floor with shooters. The best part is it looks like we're going to be able to avoid Senior-Class-of-Last-Year Moments.

I'm going to miss watching Ivan Radenovic when this season is done. Yeah, the guy can't jump over a phone book, but his up-and-under post move is pretty and his high-low passes are things of beauty. Plus there's something endearing about a guy who couldn't speak English three years ago and now he's doing urban handshakes during timeouts.

I am also enjoying the work of Mustafa Shakur, Senior Point Guard. Anytime he registers more assists than shot attempts I'm a happy guy. Mustafa has already passed Matt Muehleback and Jason Terry on the UA career assists list this year. He now sits at #7 all time with Matt Othick in his sights.

On top of that we have Chase Budinger ready to set the UA freshman record book ablaze. Buckle up, Wildcat fans. We are witnessing The Next The Next Larry Bird.

If you're looking for things to worry about, the defense is still a work in progress. We still play a Four-Guard-One-Small-Forward lineup. But this isn't the pros where you have to beat somebody four times in a seven-game series. You just have to get hot at the right time in March and this team has four scorers who can get crazy hot and a guy who can get them the ball.

There's no sense in dodging the potential. This team has enough talent to get us back to the Final Four.

It's so clear that I'll even be able to see it when I go back to my seats in the upper deck.



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