The Arizona Wildcats were not able to reverse three historic trends Saturday night. The updated numbers read:
0-5 vs. UConn
0-3 in the Elite Eight in Anaheim
0-2 during Scott Terrell‘s adult-fan-life on his birthday
For some reason CBS didn’t have a graphic with that 3rd one.
Being a college basketball fan and having your birthday in late March is a mixed bag. On the one hand it can be an extra boost to the most exciting three weeks of the year, and it’s always nice to have a bonus excuse for taking time off work. But the risk is a bad tournament loss derailing your celebration.
The last time the Cats played on my birthday was – you may remember this game – March 26….2005. We had a family gathering after the game. You would’ve thought I was attending my own funeral.
No, I was not nearly as down at the end of the latest Elite Eight loss. It helps when your team has already outplayed its seed by two wins. It helps when you became the nation’s favorite for a night by flogging Public Enemy #1. It also helps when you don’t blow a 15-point lead in four minutes.
So I was at peace with the defeat at the hands of Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb and the Connecticut Huskies. I wasn’t fired up with Derrick Williams taking that 3-pointer on the final possession since it wasn’t a catch-and-shoot situation. I would’ve preferred he go inside and try to win the game Texas-style. But can you really argue with your best player taking the biggest shot?
Then on the rebound Jamelle Horne had a very good look. It was dead on but hit the front of rim short. The ball bounced forward instead of back toward the shooter which means it hit the top or back half of the the rim. So, what is that, an inch-and-a-half from the Final Four?
You don’t want to dwell on what-ifs but the Cats may have been that same slim margin from winning the national championship. With Kansas going down to USC/VCU Winner, UConn is now the favorite to cut down the nets. This tournament has been wiiiiide open making it the perfect opportunity for a year-away 5-seed to steal the title. So it’s a good thing we’re not focusing on what-ifs.
(Big sigh. Moving on.)
The thing that most helps with the recovery time after this loss is the presence of Sean Miller. His career is just barely lifting off the runway and he’s packing a lot of fuel.
Miller has already proven he can build up the skill level and confidence of enough players to run a 10-man rotation for 38 games. From Derrick Williams to Kyryl Natyazhko every player knew his role, bought into his role and was ready to fulfill his role when called upon.
If you want to argue Miller should’ve drawn up a better play at the end of the UConn game I’ll counter with the final possession of the Texas game that turned out pretty well. And the 2nd half of the Duke rebuke was so incredible there wasn’t a need for any last-second plays.
Arizona’s second-year coach has shown he can motivate an underdog to slay a giant and knock on the door of greatness. How is he going to handle it when he’s the No. 1 seed in the Sweet 16? Wildcat Universe can’t wait to find out.
That’s the thing: When Miller makes bold predictions you have no reason to doubt him.
If Williams pulls a Sullinger the Cats are instant title contenders next year. Even if he doesn’t come back the team returns eight of 10 rotation players and adds an elite recruiting class. If that core can stay together so you have a senior-heavy roster supported by super sophomores, 2013 could be extra special.
After the Duke “game” a friend of mine pointed out that Miller is doing a good job of maintaining the UA’s recent pattern of odd-year success. Here’s the timeline:
1997 – Not too shabby
1999 – Didn’t exist (Thanks, Jason Terry)
2001 – Championship game
2003 – Elite Eight
2005 – Elite Eight
2007 – Uh…only 11 losses instead of 14 or 15?
2009 – Sweet 16
2011 – Elite Eight
It turns out the Wildcats have won once on my birthday, the Elite Eight game in 1994. The fact I didn’t know that without looking it up proves an embarrassing truth about my youth, but that tale will have to wait for another day.
With Sean Miller at the helm the future is the focus. I don’t expect Arizona fans will have to wait long for another March present.
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Wrapping up the numerical season…
Cal Ripken missed a game. Joe DiMaggio failed to get a hit. Byron Nelson lost a golf tournament. John Wooden lost a game. And Jordin Mayes missed a 3-pointer after making 10 straight over five games.
More from the land of 3: Derrick Williams made just 1-of-6 from downtown in the final game to drop his season percentage to 56.8%. That means Steve Kerr maintains possession of the school record with his 57.3% in 1988. Williams didn’t even finish as this year’s team leader. Sitting at 57.1% (4-of-7) was none other than Mr. Natyazhko.
So just three years after the first tournament where all four No. 1 seeds advanced to the Final Four, we have a bracket with no No. 1’s winning their region. Parity is dead. Long live parity!
By going from the First Four to the Final Four, VCU ensured we’re going to be looking at the Final 96 in the near future. The tournament will most certainly expand again (“Look how great these bubble teams are!”) and I fully expect to be filling out a hideous 128-team bracket someday. They’ll have to add an extra weekend and March Madness will become Tax Season Madness.
I hope you’re happy, Shaka.
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