June 18, 2007

Some will win. Some will lose. Summer born to sing the blues.

I think thatís how Tony Sopranoís favorite song goes. Anyway, it fits. The summer is officially here and Wildcat fans everywhere are singing the blues as we miss our red-and-blues.

This was my second full year of doing this writing thing. At this time last year I wrote, ďAnd if Arizona football, basketball and baseball are all disappointing next year, my keyboard and I will accept full responsibility.Ē I guess itís time to pay up.

Football again didnít go to a bowl. Basketball again lost to many people by many points. Baseball was actually better than expected, so overall the three menís team sports were less disappointing than in 2005-2006, whatever thatís worth.

The 2006 football team was clearly better than the previous yearís version. There were twice as many victories as the two previous seasons. We had our most wins and first non-losing season in seven years. The disappointment doesnít come from the overall season, just in how it ended. I had been hoping for six wins. A lot of people said weíd get seven. Most everyone thought weíd be good enough to play in December. What stings is we were so close to making everyone happy.

The run from October 14 to November 18 was our first stretch of anything close to sustained success in a very long time. The last time we had won three straight games was 2001 but those three games were against San Diego State, Idaho and UNLV. You have to go back a year further for the last three-game Pac-10 winning streak and you need to return to the glory days of 1998 for the last time we enjoyed a string of four-wins-in-five Pac-10-games. It was a reminder of the football program we once had and our first real taste of what might be to come.

So even though the season ended disappointingly, all that improvement has to count for something.

The basketball situation is lot clearer because comparing the last two seasons is a lot murkier. Last summer I was complaining about losing three times to UCLA by a combined 29 points. Well, this year we cut that down to two losses to the Bruins by a combined 19 points, but we also lost to North Carolina once by a combined 28 points.

If you want to argue that 20-11 is slightly better than 20-13, and a three-way tie for third is better than a two-way tie for fourth, be my guest, but our first oh-for-the-postseason in eight years didnít leave anybody feeling good. Certainly not good enough.

I know this kind of stuff gets written all too often lately but itís so staggering I canít help but repeat it: From 1986 through 2003 the Arizona Wildcats finished first or second in the Pacific-10 conference 17 out of 18 years, and that 18th year was the national championship. It wasnít like Gonzaga dominating the WCC either. Just an incredible run that wonít be fully appreciated until itís long gone but when that time comes we will be very appreciative.

So the official verdict on Arizona Basketball: No improvement which is very disappointing.

The baseball season lingers in our short-term fan memory since it just ended and other teams play on at the College World Series, but if we force ourselves to get over it we have another program that is clearly better than it was a year ago. We got back on the national radar screen with a 16-game winning streak. We were better than every Pac-10 team but one. We produced a true superstar in conference Pitcher of the Year Preston Guilmet. We got back into the postseason after a year off. Thereís really not a whole lot to complain about so Iím going to go ahead and feel good about this one.

One of the best parts about sports is that even the bad times can be fun, and even the forgettable seasons produce a few memorable moments. The football highlight was obviously our second straight homecoming ambush. Nothing says ďI enjoyed this gameĒ like rushing the field. As for the low point of the football season there will be a lot of votes for the LSU disaster, or every time Willie Tuitamaís head hit something, but Iím going to go with the ASU game. Continuing the season-ending winning streak, bringing back the Territorial Cup, going to a bowl, locking up a winning season - all gone in one ugly loss.

For the hoops high point you could take any of the big games during the early season winning streak that had the team in the top ten, but my ballot is cast for Ivan Radenovicís career game at Stanford the first weekend in March. By then we could all see the team for what it truly was so it was satisfying to see a hard-working senior getting his due in carrying a pedestrian squad to its 20th win of the season. For the low point...yeah. Take your pick. The most embarrassing game was that Tar Heel beatdown. Nothing says ďI wish I was somewhere elseĒ like your worst home loss in more than two decades.

The baseball team also had a long winning streak from which you could select many a high point, so I will go with the April Foolís Day game that completed the sweep against Oregon State. This was the one that really turned some heads across the country and announced that the Ď07 Cats could play some ball. For a moment of sadness, the 22-8 loss to ASU was pretty low, but that game didnít count in the league standings. The two other losses to the Devils werenít fun, but they were on the road with a strange schedule. So Iím going to go with getting shut out on two hits to end the season. Itís hard to blame a 2-seed for losing on the road against a 1-seed, especially when the 2-seed exceeded all preseason expectations, but we had two games to win one time to have a real good chance at playing at home for a trip to the College World Series. Must...move...on...

What about the very best moment of the entire sports year? My personal favorite spot in time was that instant in the Cal football game when the ball hit Antoine Casonís hands and we all realized his path was unobstructed to that righteous rectangle at the end of the field.


The next memories canít come soon enough.

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