“Yes! The NCAA tournament selection show is finally here! I can’t wait to see where we pl— Oh. When does spring football start?”
That’s about how long it took for the excitement to wear off for countless Arizona Wildcat fans tuning in to CBS Sunday afternoon. After just the second posted game we learned that we’re an 8-seed yet again and we’re lined up to face the overall #1 seed and defending national champions. But other than that our bracket looks great!
How did we get into this predicament? Our lone Pac-10 tournament game was a mess from the start. If you knock the opening tip out of bounds off your own guy does that count as a turnover? If so, the new record for Shortest Amount of Time Needed to Screw Up is four seconds.
So we have fanny packs on the back of our football jerseys and now we have backpacks on our hoops jerseys. I’m not sure about the lines down the back but I am sure I miss the red uniforms. I do like the red names on the back of these new ones and the darker blue makes the numbers easier to read. But considering how we played, “lightweight” must not refer to the new material.
Staples Center is a tomb for these midday tournament openers. There was a bigger crowd on the court than in the stands when our game started. I knew then that Oregon would have a huge advantage because their game at ASU.
Aaron Brooks’ performance was like that of a salaried executive: He put in some solid work early then took the rest of the day off. With seven minutes left in the first half Oregon had a 24-16 lead, and Brooks had 16 points all by himself. Then he went the rest of the game without scoring another point.
And they still blew us out. How? Yes, the bad defense and turnovers were there as usual. But if you really want to make an anti-statement you shoot 35% from the field, 19% from beyond the arc and beat your season low point total by 11.
The baseball team also struggled on offense over the weekend with a mere five runs in three games against Hawai`i (I wrote that with the `okina to show off). The good news is our starting pitching was excellent and we won two games to take the series. The highlight was a 12-strikeout performance from Preston Guilmet but the most rewarding victory had to be our first Sunday win in over a month. The BatCats return home for five games in six days (including three night games) beginning March 20, in case you need a break from the madness.
Back to said mental disorder, now that we’ve established how to back yourself into an 8/9 NCAA tournament game it’s time to discuss how to win one. Considering this is now our third 8-or-9-seed in the last four years I’d like to think I’m somewhat of an expert on the subject. Without further Purdue here are the Rules For Beating A Team Just As Bad As You:
1. Stop talking about the #1 seed.
Just stop it right now. I’m serious. Cut it out this instant or I will turn this website around. In 2004 everyone was excited about having a shot at Duke but at the end of the weekend it was the other team losing by 28 to the Blue Devils. You have to earn those second round beatings.
2. Don’t confuse Seton Hall with Arsenio’s brother.
An honest mistake, really.
3. Don’t blow a 15-point second half lead.
I think this one speaks for itself.
4. Do get fired up when you see a Big Ten team.
Last year we had a less-sexy 1-seed waiting for us in Villanova, which led to Wisconsin getting our full attention, which led to 94 points getting dropped on their cheeseheads. Can we stay focused on Purdue long enough to do it again?
If we do extend our current two-game winning streak over the Big Ten I hope our fans don’t tie their emotional future to a miracle happening on Sunday. The last few seasons at this time of year when we’ve limped to the end of the regular season everyone says, “It’s OK that we stink. We stunk in 1997 too and look how that turned out.” But the college basketball landscape has changed drastically in the past decade. Our beloved ’97 team finished alone in fifth place in the Pac-10 and still ended up with a 4-seed. This year’s team was tied for third in the league and we’re left for dead in the 8/9 game. This year nobody blinked when Southern Illinois got a 4-seed, or when Gonzaga got a 3 last year. It’s a lot harder to successfully stink these days.
On to the good news. Mustafa Shakur’s next assist will tie him with Damon Stoudamire for second on the all-time UA list and sixth on the Pac-10’s career list. Mustafa is also tenth on Arizona’s all-time steals list.
But if Shakur does not win four more games he will become the first Wildcat starting point guard not to play in a Final Four since Matt Othick in 1992. Damon Stoudamire, Reggie Geary, Mike Bibby, Jason Terry, and Jason Gardner. Five players, 11 years, three conveniently-spaced-out regional championships, and an era that is dangerously close to coming to an end.
I’m sorry, that’s not good news. On to the real good news.
By making this year’s field of 65, Coaches Lute Olson and Bobby Knight moved past Dean Smith for the most NCAA tournament appearances with 28 apiece.
Lute also tied Smith for the longest tournament appearance streak, which now sits at 23 consecutive years. If Coach O can bring us back again next year he’ll have the record all to himself.
More good news? Well…hmmm… We lost fewer games than last year! That’s got to count for something.
What really counts is we’re in the Big Dance once again, and we have a chance to win a game on Friday. Since it worked last year here’s a battle cry for the Purdue game:
This is for Ryan O’Hara! This is for Mike Thomas’ bad hands!! This is for your Frankenstein-looking mascot!!!
Enjoy it as quick as you can.
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