Coast To Coast

December 11, 2006

(UA 72, Louisville 65)
(UA 69, at San Diego State 48)

From the east coast, to the west coast…. It's not just a truck commercial jingle, it's your University of Arizona Men's Basketball team itinerary. And with wins in both New York City and San Diego in the same week, maybe it really is our country.

Sappy songs aside, it was good to see the Cats pick up two workmanlike victories. The Louisville game from Madison Square Garden was a tale of two halves. We shot 50% from the field in the first half and posted our typical 44 points. But thanks largely in part to 17 consecutive misses - 17 consecutive misses! - we shot a mere 18.5% in the second half. It was like Jekyll and Hyde, if Hyde up and died.

But we won anyway! In fact we never trailed by more than a single point during that entire stretch of ugliness. You know what they say about New York City: If you can win despite only making five baskets in the second half here, you can win despite only making five baskets in the second half anywhere. Not that I want to try it again any time soon.

The lighting at the Garden must be better than that in Phoenix because this week Lute noticed he had more than five players on his team. Daniel Dillon and Nic Wise combined for 22 minutes in each of the week's games and both contributed nicely with a three-pointer in the first half of the San Diego State game on wide-open catch-and-shoot looks. Don't turn out the light on the subs, Coach O.

(Because I can't help myself, here are a few things you won't find on ASU's new head football coach's official bio:

· 1 postseason ban
· 31 lost scholarships
· The June 12, 1995 Sports Illustrated cover which read: "Why the University of Miami should drop football"

Dirk Koetter did his best but he could only manage to get them on probation for "lack of institutional control." And we thought he was fired because he didn't win enough.)

Because of strange local TV rights, the UA basketball game with San Diego State wasn't entirely invisible, but it was close. It was translucent, if you will.

If you didn't see the game, our team wore blue for the first time this year and Lute wore a funky green tropical shirt. Maybe his family doesn't get Cox Cable.

Did you find yourself staring at San Diego State's floor and thinking, "Man, that is one beautiful floor"? That's because it happens to be the very same floor used in Indianapolis for the 1997 Final Four. We still haven't lost on it. I wonder if Miles Simon curled up on it with a ball for old time's sake.

Chase Budinger made the first basket of the game then made exactly one more the rest of the night. It wasn't the homecoming performance he was hoping for, but he got a lot of help from his friends.

Mustafa Shakur had three assists in the first four minutes but he too slowed down and finished with only five on the night. The eight rebounds look good but he committed my pet point guard peeve when he went in for a breakaway dunk when there was a teammate right next to him. The point man should always pass the ball on the two-on-zero break. It sends the message that assists are more important to you than points. It tells your teammates that if they run the floor they'll get rewarded. It's just symbolic of point guard purity.

To Mustafa's credit, he did turn in the play of the week when he ran down his own missed free throw against Louisville and then seconds later threw an alley-oop pass to Chase. Keep working, 15.

Marcus Williams appeared to make a quick return trip to the doghouse, logging only 20 minutes in NYC. But judging from his 16 boards against SDSU, it looks like he prefers being a Cat.

Which was the more stunning sight: Ivan Radenovic getting double-teamed, or Ivan Radenovic sporting a faux-hawk?

Kirk Walters sighting! Kirk Walters sighting!! It was only a statisticless minute of play, but he was officially back on the court. Now let's just hope he didn't catch something on the way to the scorer's table.

Unfortunately, the Cats did start the second half slowly against the Aztecs as well. It wasn't 0-for-17 bad, but we slowed down enough to let the home team back in the game. Maybe Fendi needs to do more chest-bumps at halftime.

So how do you win games when your offense goes to sleep in the second frame? You don't let the other team score either. Louisville only shot 39% from the floor. San Diego State was held to 29% shooting in the first half and 33% for the game. SDSU didn't reach 30 points in either half, and this was an 8-1 team (including a win against a Pac-10 squad) playing on its home court. I do believe that would be called defensive progress.

It also helps when you shoot 43 free throws against Louisville, and hold San Diego State to a paltry four free throw attempts. Can they still call it the "charity stripe" if we're not sharing it?

Now we get a week off before the dreaded right-before-Christmas games. Houston is down this year (4-2 with losses to St. Louis and Virginia Commonwealth) but they've got a winning streak against us. Then comes the jewel in our pre-Pac-10 crown: a contest with sixteenth-ranked Memphis. The Tigers have wins over Oklahoma and Kentucky, and losses to Georgia Tech and Tennessee. Memphis would love nothing more than to come into town and score a big road victory, and Houston would love nothing more than for us to focus all our attention on Memphis.

Enjoy the break, Wildcats, but then it's back to work.

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