The Arizona basketball team split a pair of Pac-10 home games and it counts as a good weekend.
Welcome to life as a rebuilding program.
Hold on, you say, the Cats lost at the buzzer. They easily could have won both games. Just wait; weekends are coming when you’re going to long for the good old days of beating Washington and only losing by two to Washington State. We just need to be patient and hope the progress meter keeps pointing up.
In the WSU game Arizona got a taste of its own buzzer-beating medicine. The individual highlight was Derrick Williams throwing down another vicious dunk (starting at the 3:15 mark here). They sometimes come out of nowhere. You’re just watching a simple drive to his left OH MY GOODNESS GRACIOUS.
But why was Williams back in there so early with four fouls? A guard can avoid contact but when you’re a big man in foul trouble the guy you’re guarding always goes right at you and the guy guarding you is ready to flop if you breathe on him. Sean Miller has shown he’s not afraid to stick guys out there with four fouls but I would make an exception for Arizona’s lone post presence.
The Wildcats’ second-best inside threat may be an unlikely candidate. I’ve been waiting to see what Kevin Parrom brings to the table and it turns out his strength is, well, his strength. Parrom has a decent-looking shot (he hit the three to bring us within one at the end of the WSU game) but it’s his toughness around the rim that stands out (seven boards against UW) and he’s exhibited a nice post game against guards. That officially makes a full lineup of UA freshmen with upside.
Speaking of the first-year guys I liked how MoMo Jones appeared to take the Abdul Gaddy thing personally. Gaddy, the ex-Cat recruit who was getting booed when he touched ball, hit a couple buckets when Jones took over the game in the second half. It was like he was telling the crowd, “Don’t worry, the guy you got is pretty good too.”
The change of the calendar has been good for the Arizona offense. After limping to the close of 2009 by averaging fewer than 60 points in two losses the Wildcats have averaged exactly 80 points in their last three games. The strategy appears to be having someone new post a career high in every game. Kyle Fogg lit up UCLA for 25 points and Jamelle Horne dropped 22 on Washington. Who gets to use the magic dust next?
(We interrupt this program to complain about eBay heartbreak. If it was one of you who out-bid me for the 1949 Salad Bowl ticket I’m going to be really upset.)
((No, seriously, how many tickets from the UA’s second bowl game am I going have a shot at in my lifetime? I should have waited longer to bid. I should have pledged my mortgage payment. Who needs a house when you have a 61-year-old ticket stub?))
(((This concludes today’s whining. We will now join our regularly-scheduled program, already in progress.)))
After two weekends of conference hoop action what do we know about the Pac-10? Well, the only winless team just went on the road and beat the only undefeated team. A ten-way tie for first is now a distinct possibility.
We’re looking at a historically bad year for the league. At this rate there will be zero at-large tournament bids from the Pac-10. Going into this week you thought Cal and Washington were locks but the Bears lost at home to 7-9 UCLA and the Huskies didn’t beat anybody. You can count UW’s road wins on one hand even if you don’t have any hands.
Does any of this change Arizona’s position? Not really. The NCAA tournament dream still hinges on peaking at the Pac-10 tournament.
But with a league this bad the Cats have a better chance at securing an overall winning record and taking aim at an NIT bid. Those three letters have been blasphemous around here the last 25 years but, again, this is life as a rebuilding program. Give it your all at Staples Center but any backup option that includes postseason games is a good thing.
To get there it’ll take a 10-8 conference record. That means the UA has to have more home wins than road losses. At 2-2 the Cats are a game off the pace, but if we can keep splitting each weekend and split against ASU that would put us at 14-14 / 8-8 heading into the final home games against UCLA and USC. That wouldn’t be a bad place for this young team to be.
The only certainty this Pac-10 season is uncertainty. There are no unwinnable games and no guaranteed wins. Yesterday’s 50-point loss to Seattle is today’s seven-point win at Oregon. Last week’s six-point loss to USC is this week’s 17-point win against U-Dub.
Happy rebuilding, everyone!