Shot Down

January 15, 2007

(at UA 83, OSU 72)
(UO 79, at UA 77)

Well… Duck.

We knew UCLA had won again the day before. We knew this Oregon team had beaten them. We had an extra day of rest. We were playing at home. We had the ball in a tie game with 50 seconds left. And we couldn't even get a shot off.

Marcus Williams was tremendous. Thirty-four points, 12 rebounds, and a perfect 10-for-10 from the free throw line. But at the end of the day he didn't get enough help from his friends.

McClellan and Budinger were 0-6 from behind the arc. Radenovic shot 2-9 from the field. The three combined for just ten points in the first half and 22 total in the game. Add another scoring goose egg from the bench and that's asking for an awful lot of heavy lifting from two guys.

Mustafa Shakur was great in his first 39 minutes of playing time. His 21 points on 57% shooting gave Marcus one trusty sidekick. His open court spin move for the acrobatic reverse lay-up was a thing of beauty. But in minute number forty, on the most important play of the game, he came up short.

It wasn't a good finish for the seniors. This was the first time Ivan was clearly outplayed by his counterpart. Radenovic was held to six points and Leunen posted 14 and 14. Maarty brought his aa-game.

We were out-played at the end of both halves. A six-point lead was trimmed to one in the final 1:36 of the first half, and a five-point lead was trimmed to -2 in the last three minutes. That's how you lose close games.

I did a lot of boasting with a play-by-play breakdown of the end of the Washington game, so it's only fair to read the inscription on the other side of the coin. After Marcus Williams hit four consecutive free throws to give us a five-point lead with three minutes to play, our next three possessions went like this:

-A lot of standing around, forcing Lute to take a time out.
-Mustafa gets a lay-up blocked resulting in a shot clock violation.
-Ivan forces up a shot through a double team, and also gets it blocked.
-Mustafa gets caught in the air on a drive and turns the ball over.

Let me see…just want to double check…it doesn't look like…nope. NO SHOTS FOR THE GUY WITH 34 POINTS. Probably not the best strategy.

Meanwhile Oregon rides its moneyman on every possession and Aaron Brooks responds by scoring the final five points to win the game.

The Ducks are now three points away from being the only undefeated team in the country. I don't know how Ernie Kent's boys are pulling it off while shooting 41% of their shots from three-point land, but it's hard to argue with 16-1, especially after a huge road win when you bury ten more treys than the home team. Oregon and their trendy black uniforms are making a beeline for the top ten.

Unfortunately for Arizona fans, the Oregon State game wasn't much better. Our starters had to play the entire game. We got outscored in the second half. It was a single-digit lead with three minutes to play. It was as bad as you can look while leading every second of a game.

You gotta ask: Where did the three-point shooting go? After 11-20 at Washington, we saw 6-21 at WSU, 3-18 vs. OSU and now 3-15 against Oregon. That's 12-54 (22%) in the last three games. The fact that the most recent two were at home is especially troublesome. A lineup with five shooters isn't supposed to go through slumps. Is it just horrible luck? Or are they - dare I say it - tired?

(At least we have football to cheer us up. With Antoine Cason and Louis Holmes returning for 2007, the captain has turned on the Go Crazy With Monstrous Expectations For Our Defense sign.)

And now we get to go to L.A.

USC is the only team to beat the Ducks so far this year and UCLA was #1 in the country last week. Out of the frying pan, into the nuclear reactor.

USC still has all their freakishly athletic players and they still love to go one-on-one. But this team is battle tested, having already played five ranked teams with wins against three of them. The new Galen Center gives the Trojans a true home court advantage, and that's on top of beating us two of the last three at their place anyway.

UCLA is UCLA. The Ben Howland version of the Bruins just wears you down. They've only topped 71 points once in Pac-10 play this year but, as USC learned this past Saturday, few leads are safe when you're up against a tough, physical defense and crunch-time shooters like Arron Afflalo and Darren Collison.

One thing I didn't understand was how USC let Lorenzo Mata score two huge field goals on them down the stretch. The guy shoots 33% from the free throw line! Sure enough, when they sent him there later in the game he missed both. You have to put him on the line late in a close game. That's right, this Saturday I'm calling for the Foul-a-lotta-Mata.

What is our best chance to beat either of the SoCal teams? Make shots. And lots of them. We're not going to be able to out-D UCLA. We aren't going to be able to lock down Nick Young, Lodrick Stewart and the rest of the Trojans. Our only hope is to borrow a page from Oregon's playbook and put the ball in the basket over and over again.

That means we need Marcus Williams to do exactly what he's doing. In his last six games Marcus is averaging 24 points and seven rebounds on 61% shooting from the floor and 86% from the line. Our best player from the end of last year is back to being our best player this year. Now we need to get everyone else to match him or our trip to Hollywood won't have a happy ending.

That is the unpleasant reality for our weary Wildcats, and that's why losing at home is so painful. The good news is we still control our own destiny. We can get right back into the Pac-10 race with two mammoth performances this week. The bad news is we can finish a first-to-Washington dive by the end of Saturday.

Now we'll see who can really win on the road.

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