Monthly Archives: January 2013

A Trip To Palo Alto: Ducks and Beers Crushed

I don’t navigate Palo Alto too well so we were a few minutes late to meeting my pals at The Old Pro. But once we arrived, we crushed a couple pitchers, a sampler platter, and some chicken nachos that tasted a lot more like shredded pork and headed out.

En route to Maples we saw no scalpers.

Our Box Office purchase was little more than entry into the stadium as we wound up sitting darn well wherever we please which reads a lot more assertive than our bleachers-behind-the-shot-clock choice would suggest.

photo(18)

We caught the middle of the Cardinal introductions and were acutely aware of the high school vibe Maples seems to propagate. This isn’t a bad thing. By many accounts Cameron Indoor successfully accomplishes the same, there’s nothing wrong with intimacy. It just makes it somewhat easier to overlook that one of the teams on the floor is the tenth rated team in the nation. Because the crowd certainly did not indicate such.

They more embodied the home team – understandably – as a group with great potential (I’m always curious the earning potential of the Stanford student section) not yet achieved. Nonetheless, the stage was set for a big night as Musburger and Walton had the nationally televised call.

Is it just me or is that a remarkably power tandem for a Wednesday night 11pm EST ESPNU tip?

Alas, the ball was tipped and before possession was even acquired, Oregon had a turnover. I suppose that was going to be the case in this Dominic Artis-less offense but don’t let that be the rationale for the transpiring 40-minutes. What Stanford did was impose their defensive will and contest every shot, force uncomfortable runners, and for Oregon so far out of its comfort zone that they stood little to no chance.

It was a defensive masterpiece that happened to coincide with quite the shooting night. The Cardinal shot a cool 52% from the field and 57% from deep, which is to say they got theirs inside and out. Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis asserted themselves basically everywhere while Aaron Bright was unquestionably in control of the game at all times.

And here was my favorite sequence. With 15:16 remaining in the game and some semblance of an Oregon chance still lingering, the following occurred:

Huestis block, Randle three, Emory foul, Bright three, Austin offensive foul, Oregon Time out.

Time elapsed? Twenty seconds to jump that lead to a devastating 22-points. And had Andy Brown’s three fallen coming out of that Oregon timeout it literally would have been my all-time favorite back breaking sequence.

Oregon played poorly, they did, but Wednesday was Stanford’s night. Now I will be curious to observe  exceptions and rules. I don’t think 35% shooting and 20 turnovers is the rule for Oregon. The same applies for Stanford.

But this could be the Cardinal’s tipping point; the moment they remember they are a deep, tough, and talented team.

For Oregon, I see this game as a heat check. They’ve played some terrific basketball but also an unsustainable model. They’d been squeaking past opponents, meddling about the middle of the conference in scoring margin. So like a said, a heat check, perhaps an opportunity to straighten their collar and tighten their tie because the Ducks still have a stranglehold on this conference.

As for me? It was so great to get into that live atmosphere again. It goes without saying but being there is a completely different experience than the television. You’re reminded of the size of these players and the quickness it requires to go three-point line to rim; the explosiveness of a flatfooted dunk; how physical an off-ball screen is.

I love getting to tell these stories because there’s so much going on in that 94×50 foot rectangle of hardwood that I just can’t get enough.

Hooray Sports!

UCLADrewBlue

Week 5 Pac-12 Hoops Preview

Evidently this has become the week of PEDs, from ARod’s Miami issues to Ray Lewis accusations, it’s been a major topic which I’m willing to say is better than a week of fake girlfriends; and a far more lucrative sham. Seriously though, my stance on the roids debate is: You’re either good at baseball or you’re not (and that they probably should lock up enlarging the humans of the NFL). If they gave us more names than just ARod or Melky we’d have never heard of any of them. Cesar Carrillo, are you serious? Who is that? I’m not brushing it aside but the baseball writer’s need to get over themselves and accept that whatever these “cheaters” were doing made them oodles of cash and let them get their Americana hyperbole on during any and all of their feats. It’s one big hairy mess that was propagated by all. The vehement denials can stop though.

And it would seem that PEDs couldn’t even help some of these Pac-12 teams. I suppose HGH for recovery purposes might do the trick as it seems more and more teams are weeding out the non-contributors (or sustaining injuries) en route to six man rotations. I mean, UCLA-ASU last week featured ten players getting 30+ minutes on the floor. Holy ice baths!

Now consider this SAT prep analogy: PEDS:Controversy::Shabazz:??. Well, the answer here would be controversy again. While the Bruin has never been accused of roids (that’d be weird and arguably unprecedented in collegiate hoop) his adherence to the rules has often been questioned. Each time his amateurism or eligibility has come in to question, he’s somehow become ill? While the NCAA deliberated clearing him to play in October/November, Shabazz sustained a shoulder injury. As UCLA currently investigates his flashy backpack, he’s listed as day-to-day with “stomach illness?” Whatever. The Bruins are going to be in some awesome unis tonight and that’s a better story. (see image above)

Note that I may be tardy on some work next week, the Harbowl is going to consume my San Francisco Sunday.

Some briefs on the Wed/Thursday slate and then the rest of it:

Game of the Week: So this is one of those weeks where you hope all those people who are all, “Oh, nanner nanner nanner the Pac-12 sucks, losers, bad,” aren’t paying attention because while I know and you know that there are some very competitive teams going at it, this weekender pales in comparison to the likes of many other conferences this weekend. I mean, Oregon @ Stanford just doesn’t sound all that marquee. And maybe I’m blinded by the fact that the B1G is featuring 1v3 this weekend. Whatever the case, I really think the Arizona State-Washington game on Saturday is the GotW. ASU is and will be on a constant battle to prove themselves and Washington is a tough team to put a finger on. But they’ll be at home with a favored opportunity to beat an opponent of equal to greater value. That’s to say: pretty good amount on the line here.

Game to Avoid: Are you kidding me? Oregon State is playing at Stanford at noon on Super Bowl Sunday? What Bay Area local is going to attend this game, honestly? The Niners are a handful of years away from playing all-but-in Palo Alto and then there’s the whole Harbaugh aspect. No one has any interest in this game, it’ll be a miracle if they draw 300 people.

Something to Prove: What team is Cal going to be? They’re back at the friendly confines and have really been quiet in Pac-12 play. They’ve essentially taken care of business. Slowly but surely – if that phrase even applies – they’ve settled into a bout of gross mediocrity. This is not good. They play host this weekend to the Ducks and get Brandon Smith back. Is that going to be enough? As thin as they’ve been the extra body should help. Look, Mike Montgomery is a terrific coach which is why I’d expect this group to compete a touch harder than they have. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and guess that Monty revitalizes this crew, awakening them to some semblance of their potential. They may not beat the Ducks but they shouldn’t give a disinterested vibe.

Something to Lose: I’m not entirely sure the Washington Huskies have all that much to lose. Regardless they still stake claim to those three road victories and an increasingly impressive win over Colorado. Now, however, they’ve lost three straight to far inferior competition plus Oregon and are in jeoprady of five straight. The Arizona schools are proving the toughest trip to make/host and Washington could come out of Super Bowl weekend a painful 4-5; which is to say the Huskies stand to lose their season here, or maybe drive the nail in as. Their early conference heroics may have revitalized some hope but the scenario I’ve laid out here could be devastating to a team who’s testicular fortitude has been questioned.

The YouTuber: Enjoy the Harbowl.

LoRoMontlake

Montlake Madness: A Q&A on My Favorite Rivalry

Off the bat you need to know that Washington-Arizona is my favorite rivalry. Competitively it’s been phenomenal. From The Block I and II, to Cold Blooded, to Roy v. Adams in 2005, the purple and red have had no shortage of high paced games full of points and story storylines. I love it and still hate Ryan Appleby’s t-shirt.

Maybe I’m biased as my best friend from college was from SeaTown – a Mercer Islander named Jared – who both point-guarded our rec efforts (a team who’s shooting guard was an ASU fan and somehow the three of us managed to cohesively wreck shop between a Cat, a Dawg, and a Devil amongst all the UCSD Tritons) and busted me out of whatever shell I needed busting out of us an awkward 21-year-old. For such I felt indebted and thus hosted Jared in 2008: second row, mid-court in McKale! As he wore his purple tank and accepted compliments from Wildcat fans about what a wonderful city Seattle is, Jerryd Bayless and Chase Budinger were dropping 51 en route to an 84-69 Wildcats victory. Jared has never hosted me in HecEd.

But enough about Jared and me. This is about the rivalry and what my man Griffin (also opperates @MontlakeMadness) has to say about his Dawgs. You see, Griffin and I go back to last year’s Cats and Dawgs fight when he graciously did a Q&A with me (my first!). He runs the great Dawg Blog, Montlake Madness - which recently made the transition on to SI – congrats. He’s worth a follow and a read to be certain. That is if you like thorough insight and quality work. If that’s not your bag then…I really don’t know.

Game time:

Going to come right at it: What is this Husky team’s identity?

That’s a great question. I can tell you that it SHOULD be hard-nosed defense and perimeter shooting. The team is built with long athletes that should make it difficult for teams to score. They also have two exceptional shooters in Wilcox and Suggs who can give teams nightmares.

During the first four games of the Pac-12 season you saw what this team could be. Unfortunately, they don’t have the testicular fortitude as a team to sustain those types of efforts on a nightly basis.

This team is an army without a general. The long-time players like Abdul Gaddy, Scott Suggs, and CJ Wilcox don’t have the types of personalities that inspire a team. UW has been blessed in the past with players like Isaiah Thomas, Nate Robinson, Jon Brockman, and Brandon Roy who could pull a team together in a timeout and fix things then and there.

This team just stares into each other’s eyes and hopes it will just fix itself.

Tell me about Abdul Gaddy’s career? What do you make of it?

It’s so tough to talk about Gaddy. One of the hardest working, nicest, best teammates I’ve ever seen at UW. Unfortunately it seem like he was doomed from the beginning of his career. As many know, he came in as the second highest rated PG in the nation, a five star, McDonalds All-American and it seems like he was never that player to begin with.

His confidence was shot early when he didn’t meet those insanely high standards and Isaiah Thomas was already here and he was clearly the superior player and took up a lot of time at PG.

In 2010/11 he looked like he was making the jump as through 13 games he was averaging 8.5 ppg, 3.5 apg, and shooting 40% from three but then he tore his ACL and everyone would say that he’s lost a step or two ever since then.

Now he has no momentum, no confidence in his shot, a better and younger PG behind him (Andrews), and the entire leadership load on his shoulders. He’s gotten crushed under the constant pressure during his career and all of Husky Nation is ready to move on.

What is his legacy?

To be harsh: one of the biggest busts in Husky history. I will remember him as a teammate that every player loved and a guy who just wished he could hit the reset button once.

Have you ever ended a 151-game winning streak?

Yes! I love that you asked me this one again. I’ll tell anyone who’s willing to listen as it’s the pinnacle of my athletic career. Long story short, I played football at Bellevue High School (Bellevue, WA) and we ended De La Salle’s (Concord, CA) 151 game winning streak, the longest in HS Football history.

Glory days are great.

There you are, they’ve picked you, Griffin, to be First Captain and the lineup at the schoolyard includes Terrence Ross and CJ Wilcox, who are you taking?

Terrence Ross, especially for a pickup game. Wilcox may have the better shot but Ross can do everything. Even though he certainly made the right choice in leaving early and getting drafted 8th overall, his presence on this UW team probably would have salvaged this lost season and sent them back the NCAA tournament.

Wilcox is turning into a very special player, though. He’s just starting to gain confidence in his dribble-drive game as he’s finally developing a better handle on the ball. As most know in the Pac-12, he has the best shooting stroke in the nation. As this season continues to fall apart, UW fans are starting to look forward to next season and we hope he doesn’t leave early to the NBA. 

What’s the song you’re telling everyone about these days?

Well, as a Seattleite, I’m required to recommend Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ new album The Heist. All of it is just amazing. As for one song though, “Wild For The Night” by A$AP Rocky ft. Skrillex is probably my most played lately.

Cold blooded. Go ahead…

Perhaps the pinnacle of the rivalry right there. Now if we could just get Isaiah Thomas and the Kings to move up to Seattle…

The MillerCats are just 2-5 against the Dawgs and he talked about that at Media Day. Thoughts on this rivalry: 

It has been insanely entertaining. Even before Miller arrived, they were the must-watch game. I fell in love with the match up back in 2005 when Arizona beat UW in double overtime in Montlake on New Year’s Eve. It was the single greatest college game I’ve witnessed.

There has been no better rivalry over the past decade than UW/Arizona in the Pac-12. None.

As Romar teams have done over the years, they almost always play up to their opponent and Arizona has always brought the best out of them.

Give a grade and additional comments for Romar’s work this season.

This is a real tough one. The hiring of Brad Jackson as a new assistant has really helped with implementing the new high post offense but everyone knew there would be some struggles in year one of the transition. Romar’s number one criticism over the last few years is a lack of a half-court offense so it’s a much needed change.

The real struggle of this team is a lack of motivation, especially to start games. They come out flat often and have to play from behind. Now is that an issue that Romar can fix? I’m not too sure. Usually that’s up to the captains and players to figure out on their own.

Another criticism of Romar is that UW had zero recruits come in this year. They had a couple transfers but they have to sit out the entire year. It’s really hurt their bench and overall versatility. That can certainly be pinned on him.

What makes this group of Huskies tick? How do they – if you think they can – win this ball game?

I thought these Huskies thrived on adversity and playing up to the challenge but their efforts in last week’s Oregon road trip certainly proved that wrong. Honestly, I think UW has no shot at winning on Thursday. Arizona is everything that UW wants to be in terms of pace, athletes, and experience. Barring a complete collapse from Arizona, I would be shocked if UW kept it close in the second half.

Prediction time, go!

Arizona 75, UW 63. Hopefully this marquee game finally awakens the Hec Ed crowd and that energy helps fuel the Huskies but my faith in this team is non-existent.

For those of you watching the game at home, I suggest playing the Gaddy Drinking Game. There’s only one rule: drink every time you find yourself saying “GADDY!!!!”! You’ll get a good buzz going by halftime.

/endQA

Big thanks to Griffin for his insights on the Huskies, music, and helping to relive the glory days. At PacHoops we choose not to believe we peaked in High School so long live the dream. I also really think I could get into that drinking game: GADDYYYY!!!!

See you guys on the other side.

TarczewskiScott

Baby Bigs and Why Patience Matters. Josh Scott, too.

I debuted this morning on SB Nation’s Wildcats site, AZ Desert Swarm. It’s a good, comprehensive site covering all facets of Arizona athletics. Get into it.

So what I dove into over there this morning was the Arizona freshmen bigs and this absurd but relatively muted notion that they’ve disappointed (I really should curb my message board reading). They have not been a disappointment and I spell that out with comparisons to Arizona bigs of the past – all of whom were drafted except Ivan Radenovic – and the collection of Top-50 bigs of the past three classes and their freshman year output. Kaleb, Grant, and Brandon are about par for the course.

Those kiddos will be improving and one has to appreciate the sound of that considering they stand at 17-2 with room to indeed play better.

But what about other baby bigs across the conference? Arizona didn’t have a complete monopoly on sized incomers, how are those guys fairing? We have seen a smattering of matured big men coming into their own this season (Tony Woods, Jordan Bachynski, Eric Moreland, Dwight Powell), further supports the notion that everyone grows up. A quick peak at the pups:

Big PPG RPG
Tony Parker, UCLA 2.7 1.4
Ben Carter, Oregon 3.1 2.8
Grant Verhoeven, Stanford 0.9 0.9
Jeremy Olsen, Utah 2.3 2.6
Josh Scott, Colorado 12.6 5.6

Toldya! Freshmen bigs have a steeper learning curve (apologies if I’ve missed any others). While few of these guys came in as ballyhooed as the Zonies, they too will need time to develop. Yeah, it takes the brain a minute to fire off synapses seven feet apart and suddenly when you enter the college game you’re not playing against City High’s 6’5″ pimple faced junior who just texted his mom that he got a B+ on his chemistry exam (so getting grounded). Now these guys are banging against like-sized humans and that’s a different ball game. There is so little post development at the sub-collegiate level because there just isn’t the competition to support it. I mean, Anthony Davis developed his skills as a guard and then puberty reared it’s ugly head and said, “Young man, let’s do this.”

But let’s talk about Mr. Scott.

By many accounts, he was one of the most skilled big men in the 2012 class. Scouts raved of his scoring ability and ambidexterity. In learning about the 6’10″ Coloradoan, we find that his profile has few parallels to other bigs in his class. Their profiles read something like a model’s, talking about bodies and frames or how athletic they are. Something straight out of that scene in Moneyball where Billy Beane abruptly dismisses the celebration of “high butts…like we’re looking for Fabio.” Well no one is soon to call Mr. Scott “Fabio” but he is an example of a skilled tall person in the right system who is taking advantage of the opportunity.

He’s not about to wow you with athleticism but he will get by you with deft skill and put the ball into the basket be it by post move or free throw. He’s crafty and it’s been an impressive twenty games thus far. He’s an exception to the rule.

Conference and nation-wide, freshmen bigs will improve and that’s exciting news. It’s anecdotally supported that the older these guys get, the better they are. Tony Woods doubles his scoring output? Oregon is 18-2. Jordan Bachynski jumps from 6/4 with just one block per contest to 11/7 and 5 blocks? ASU is a bubble team. And sure there are other factors playing into Oregon and ASU’s success but these bigs have been integral to that success. Look, I know it’s not rocket science but teams are better suited with a formidable front court than back court. There’s a reason you have a 17% chance of making the league if you’re seven-feet tall.

But in the meantime, some teams will continue to endure the learning curve. A message that may resemble Sean Miller’s comments for his freshman, Aneglo Chol, last year:

Please catch the ball when it is passed to you, Angelo.

RobersonStan

Week 4 Pac-12 Hoops Review

For the record, know that I could care less about Shabazz’s Gucci backpack. For starters, I’m not a backpack guy. That’s not to say I don’t like them, but exorbitant spending on a carrying device that effuses the appearance of a middle-school seems an unworthy purchase to me. I still use the backpack I used from the first day of sixth grade. I mean, there was a Trapper Keeper in that thing. Whatever Shabazz had in his – more than likely just channeling his inner KD35 – I’m not concerned and I certainly don’t care about how he got it. I’ll let that be worried about by the NCAA and whatever investigative abilities they may or may not have. Go for it fellas! Because I’m really more concerned with UCLA’s crowning victory parade ending in a Tempe meltdown. No bueno there and while I think it might say more about ASU, it certainly wasn’t a good luck for the Bruins who looked mighty good in Tucson. Alas, maybe the backpack is telling of where the focus is in Westwood.

Leader in the Clubhouse: An utter no brainer here, the Oregon Ducks just keep stockpiling wins like its football season or something. I love how deeply ingrained this team is in playing the style their coach wants them to. They systematically beat you and that’s why they managed to eek out yet another W despite losing Dominic Artis. And they’re deep, too. On Wednesday night, Altman saw his second group mount a bit of a comeback against the Cougars in the first half. That group cut an eight point deficit to three. And then he subbed four new bodies in. Arizona is the only other team that can do that in the Pac-12. When you can throw that many looks at people, it makes you defensively vicious. I mean, look at the UCLA-ASU box score. Not one starter played less than 30 minutes. That’s unsustainable and a truth the Ducks will never have to deal with. And EJ’s heating up.

GotW: Felt like a lot blow outs this weekend, some demons being shaken free. My gut would suggest that the Oregon-Washington game was the GotW but any event that displays 44 combined turnovers cannot be consider the best of anything. Maybe the best of the worst, I don’t know. I did catch that USC-ASU game that went to OT and featured a whole heckuva lotta points. Somewhere KO sipped (slugged?) his JD-rocks and thought, “A team once coached by me nearly yielded a century mark?” Alas, JT Terrell gets to play free and loose and it showed as he and Jio hit big threes in the closing ticks. Fun game.

Biggest Loser: I really do not like what I’ve been seeing from Cal. I think Allen Crabbe is tremendous but one player does not a team with effort and discipline make. Justin Cobbs was quickly taken out of his game in the first half in Colorado and that essentially spelled the rest of his night. Sure he got his late but at that point the Buffs were heels up sipping fine scotch and curious whether or not they were going to hit up the slopes in Park City before or after their trip to Utah next week. Cal looked disinterested and out of sorts and wildly dependent on the successes of Crabbe and Cobbs. Bad recipe.

What We Learned: The Buffs are back. They played their kind of ball and took the Bay Area to task. Final scores aside, Colorado finally started scoring some buckets. Is Xavier Johnson for reals? I know he’s not going to drop double-doubles on the weekly but his 11/3 effort Thursday was exactly what this group needed from someone not named Booker, Dinwiddie, or Scott. Also, 20 rebounds is so much. The next step will be in observing the sustainability of this O as the slump they were in was significantly long. Did they just catch fire or is this real deal? I’m leaning towards the latter. I told BuffsNation about it, too (amongst other weekend wrap up items). But in all honesty, I don’t know if too much was grossly revealed by this weekend’s games. UCLA exposed Arizona as lacking a scoring threat on the post and that just because there is immense size in Kaleb Tarczewski, he isn’t yet the type where teams scheme against him, opening things up for Arizona’s dynamic guards. Grant Jerrett is becoming more assertive about getting into the blocks but isn’t quite there yet. At the end of the day, however, your team is generally pretty well suited to feature two such players. It’s going to be OK in Tucson.

The YouTuber: This video was brought to my attention and I can’t get enough of it. I don’t know if it’s the fact that a 6’9″ 270lbs man tackles someone absurdly unprepared to take a tackle from a 6’9″ 270lbs man or the shot. Dude should get blindfold credit.

ShabazzAZ

BB: Briefly on Last Night In Tucson

I’m just going to ramble a little bit about last night’s Arizona UCLA game. An overarching takeaway, revealed truth, or a silver lining just aren’t in the cards. Not today. I’ll proceed in four parts:

1. A Decree

Hear ye, hear ye! Now hear this! I hearby begin the campaign to get Kaleb Philip Tarczewski to foul out of a game! In doing such, he would demonstrate that seven-feet and two-hundred-sixty pounds of developing manbeastchild got aggressive; a terrifying prospect considering the aforementioned mass metrics. Just two rules to the campaign:

  • No fouls committed beyond eight feet from the basket
  • If And-One occurs and it is not #SCtop10, 1000 stadiums will be run

[insert image of Tarc stare down following block of LD2]

2. Mark Lyons

Bad game. Happens.

3. I Was Wrong

Last night was a big game – contrary to what I said – and UCLA played it as such. I’m microwaving the crow now. My oversight was in not recognizing the issue of Oregon’s stranglehold on the conference. NCAA tournament seeding is really awesome stuff, but conference championships are super awesome. Arizona is going to need some help now. I also mentioned that the Cat was let out of the bag about Arizona making statements en route to season’s end. The cart was a bit ahead of the horse there but Brandon Ashley continues to improve, Grant Jerrett is playing more assertively, and sometimes point number two (above) just happens. Worried about Arizona? No. Expected more, a better effort? Absolutely.

4. Lizard Catching

In something like second grade – and note that this is very growing up in Tucson-centric – we learned how to catch lizards. I don’t recall if it was for scientific purposes but someone, presumably from the Desert Museum, guided our class into the desert and showed us how to capture these little critters. We would dig a small hole, big enough to bury a coffee can or the like, then surround that hole with four rocks to prop a shade delivering something over the hole. The unsuspecting lizard would be gleefully drawn to the shade and fall right into coffee can, unable to climb his way out. And that’s how we got ourselves lizards. The moral of the story? Don’t fall into holes. (As defined here, a hole is 3 points in a game’s opening 7 minutes and 37 seconds)

SolomonHill

The Cat is Out of the Bag on Big Games

Got into the conversation earlier this week about the magnitude of Arizona’s win in Tempe. He called it “the biggest win of the season.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, bro,” I thought. “Don’t be a hyperbolic victim of the moment.” A rivalry game, to be certain, but Arizona was expected to win. Hell, Arizona has been expected to win nearly every game they’ve played by KenPom’s predictive analytics. So no, I was not prepared to call the ASU victory Arizona’s biggest of the season.

But maybe it was? Maybe when a team asserts itself in the manner we and they expect – defeating an inferior opponent through the imposition of its will – it is indeed the biggest. After all, it provides the tape that says, “See, look at what you can do.”

And so I began to get behind it, wrapping my head around the fact that there was an implied magnitude to that game, a knowing opponent with every reason to pounce on the opportunity to ride emotion to an unsuspecting victory. Arizona made sure that would not be the case because they are indeed the better team and perhaps set a whole new bar.

After that game, in his brief address to the team, Miller spoke glowingly of Brandon Ashley’s effort. He’d just held ASU senior, Carrick Felix, who averages 15/8, to 5 points on 1-8 shooting. Felix coughed the ball up seven times. Miller raved of Ashley’s work, telling him there was both good news and bad news surrounding his game. The good news? Brandon Ashley had just played the best defensive game of his collegiate career. The bad news? “You let the cat out of the bag. That’s now what you have to do, everyday in every game,” Miller exclaimed to collective laughter and cheers.

So Thursday night – with McKale whited out and loud and raucous and nationally televised at a reasonable national hour and hosting the most consequential UCLA-Arizona game in the Sean Miller era – the Wildcats have the opportunity to let their collective Cat out of the bag.

Because ultimately, this isn’t that big of a game. UCLA is good, not great, and certainly on the downslope by big picture standards. As both of these teams are chasing Oregon for conference supremacy, every Pac-12 game will be important. But as far as big games go, this one isn’t quite on the level of what Arizona-UCLA once was. Because what UCLA brings to the table is identity-less and joyless and uninspiring. Like in Hook where Captain Hook has the opportunity to eliminate Pan but refrains, allotting him three days to become the “great and worthy opponent” he feels Peter Banning is not. The Captain will not accept a bout unless his adversary, Pan, can pose a challenge. Where are the great and worthy Bruins?

And the exception in this case is that, big picture, Arizona is Pan and UCLA Hook. The Wildcats are spry and youthful, jubilant and crowing about Neverland. The Bruins? Well they’re curmugoned and fearful of the clock. Because the clock is ticking on Howland and the inevitable one-and-done roster turnover and Tony Parker’ seemingly impending transfer. Collectively, there are too many sideshows to sift through to view a match up with UCLA as much more than special laundry.

Now don’t get me wrong here. By no means am I being dismissive of the challenge the Bruins present. They have talented basketball players. But the importance of this game has a lot more to do with what’s happening in the red jersey than the other tank. Moving forward, Arizona’s schedule is for making statements, further asserting their agenda, letting more and more cats out of the bag.

What’s a big game? Beating your upstart and hungry arch rival on the road is big. Winning the first match up of top-10 teams on your home floor in nearly a decade is a big game. Capturing the title of a three-game, four-day Christmas in Maui tournament is big.

Big isn’t a two way street. It’s a one lane freeway with two lanes and no one knows what direction UCLA is going.

bald_eagle_head_and_american_flag1

Week 4 Pac-12 Hoops Preview: A Fiasco

Well I missed the week three review. My bad, team. I was in DC getting my America on and attending the Inauguration ceremonies. I did have my Pac-12 feelers on and caught a glimpse of the First Coach in his orange and black scarf. You know what they say about coaches? ABR: always be recruiting.

But you know what else I saw? Lupe Fiasco sing 40-consecutive minutes of the same mildly anti-it’s-unclear-exactly-who/what song at a cozy open bar event. Have you ever seen a B-star get defiant then forcibly removed from a stage? Let me rephrase: have you ever seen a B-star get defiant then forcibly removed from a stage at an open bar event? It’s awesome. So awesome that I’d later get into a dance battle in which I displayed my jestful breakdancing moves as a retort to my competitor’s back handspring. So there was that.

Oh, and of all the planes in the SWA fleet, brother and I wound up on what I think is the only one without WiFi and could not stream the Arizona-ASU game. We were 35,000 in the air and anxiously predicting outcomes. We decided to watch Seven. I won’t go into the details of when we turned our phones on, but let’s just say if it’d been a race amongst the other patrons, we’d have won.

That’s the longwinded version of why I missed the review and why I’m a day late on this preview. Here I can do a brief review with emojis:

:) Oregon and Utah

:( Washington, Oregon State and Cal

The day-late preview:

Game of the Week: I really don’t feel that bad about missing Wednesday’s games with this preview. I mean, that two gamer featured an average RPI of 109. So back to the best game of this week, I’m not going to pick Arizona and UCLA. I just sincerely think Arizona is too big for this game. I don’t even mean that size wise – seriously, UCLA is 7th to Arizona’s 10th in effective height. No. At 16-1 and rolling, Arizona is beyond the emotional game standpoint. They’re playing to make statements now and UCLA just doesn’t bring enough to the table to merit the emotions of a rival. To me, the biggest game of the weekend is Stanford at Colorado. Here’s a pair of underachievers with a lot of games left to play but not a lot of time to figure it out. A win in this game could be just the momentum each needs to get the ball rolling again. Of course this is big kid competition and not everyone is going to walk away with a ribbon. Home has long been kind to Colorado but Stanford is one of just a handful of teams (five I believe?) to win at the Keg since Tad Boyle started there. And when the Cardinal won there, they rolled, 74-50.

Game to Avoid: The more I watch WSU the more I find them to look lost. Sure they rained threes to keep Oregon at bay for a good chunk of the game Wednesday night, but when it came down to the stretch run, when things like execution and discipline are important, the Cougars fell apart. Point being, Ken Bone’s now 1-5 crew will head to Corvallis to see who will become a two-win team. I have better things to do on my Saturday afternoon.

Something to Prove: I think both Colorado and Stanford have a lot to prove, but that’s more of a week-in-week-out thing moving forward. They’re in trouble. ASU, however, has started conference play quite nicely and have got to feel good about their 3-2 conference start and overall 14-4 mark. But now they host the upstart (can we call them that?) Trojans who seem to be playing loose and fearlessly – a scary combination – and the talented Bruins. UCLA is a good team and has a chance to win every time out. If ASU wants to contend, they’ll need to win this game. I find this an intriguing matchup with some pretty similar pieces and, for all my eviscerating of them, it’s still UCLA and a game that can be pretty easy to get up for. Which of course leads us back to the Trapjans (that’s my new nickname for USC). They’re the wildcard in all of this and will cause fits for many teams. But ASU has the opportunity this weekend to prove they’re more than a hot start and a weak schedule.

Something to Lose: I really could pick from any team not in the top or bottom three. It’s long been discussed what a toss up the middle of this conference would be and that assumption is being validated just three weeks deep. However, I’m picking Washington here, which might be cheating because I’m doing such after they already lost and have now done such for two consecutive games and have now done such against winless teams. Whatever good spirits the Huskies may have garnered with their nifty road start will evaporate with an ugly showing in Oregon. Sure, there’s no shame in losing to the Ducks, but three game losing streaks aren’t good.

The YouTuber: I present to you…Lupe Fiasco. #FiascoFiasco

ASU Mountain Red

An Arizona Rivalry Breakdown: Q&A with Cats

Their colors alone have been known to evoke a visceral reaction. It’s been said that they develop billboards that will make you scratch your head. They have attended fewer NCAA tournaments than Arizona has Sweet Sixteens. Their antics have been celebrated by the Daily Show. The brand they’ve created has been associated with a Chicago gang.

They are…the least interesting basketball program in the world.

To say that Wildcats dislike Sun Devils (and the converse) is an understatement.

So I went to Ezra, Brad, and Scott, three with Navy and Cardinal blood and Bear Down hearts, to tell me what they thought about it. Ezra (EA) is a great writer at PointGuardU and a knowledgeable twitter follow; Scott (SC) also delivers it on the twitter and contributes to SB Nation’s hoops coverage; Brad (BH) and I have been through the trenches of Wildcat fandom and have exchanged fourteen copies of War & Peace worth of texts, gchats, emails, and verbal communication re: Wildcat hoops.

I will note that any efforts to get a Sun Devil involved in this Q&A went unresponded to. Anyhow, I’ll let these guys take it from here:

Do you hate ASU? If yes, why? If no, why not? I challenge you to be brief.

BH: To say I hate ASU in a basketball blog is to dignify a basketball rivalry that doesn’t exist. ASU has never had anything to lose in this game, and Arizona has never had anything to gain. As a result it’s just a carnival game for ASU fans: they know they can win, but they don’t expect too.

SC: Yeah, I’d say I’m not too fond of our sister school up north. It’s just a shame their basketball program isn’t worth a damn, because I’d love a natural in-state rivalry where one team hasn’t won 95 percent of the games over the past three decades.

EA: Hate is a forceful word and one that shouldn’t be used on a basketball program that has reached the Elite Eight just once in the past half-century.

Favorite rivalry memory?

BH: This strikes me as an opportunity created by @pachoopsab for @pachoopsab to talk about doing a lap around Wells Fargo after Sean Miller’s first team waxed the Sun Devils in Tempe. I’m not sure I have a favorite memory, but if I had to choose, I would pick between two: 1) Arizona fans packed into Wells Fargo arena wearing shirts that simply said “1997” (I don’t remember the outcome of the game); or 2) Lute Olson responding to classless ASU fans by pointing at the scoreboard.

I wonder what those numbers mean?

I wonder what those numbers mean?

SC: Salim Stoudamire drilling a jumper from the elbow to sink ASU at home back in 2005. It was loud in the arena that day, and when Stoudamire’s shot went in, there was nothing but silence from those wearing gold.

EA: It has to be Salim Stoudamire’s signature, last second jumper to beat ASU in March of 2005 to clinch Lute Olson’s record breaking 305th Pac-10 victory and an 11th conference title. Despite 25 points from Ike Diogu and a double digit second half comeback, the Sun Devils couldn’t help but watch the All-American Stoudamire smoothly drop in the dagger.

Yes, I’m actually going to ask you this and I expect an answer: Who is your all-time favorite Sun Devil? If you can’t wrap your mind around that phrasing: Who is your all-time least hated Devil?

BH: I’m going with Bill Frieder here. Bill was the kindly in-state coaching foil for Lute Olson during a few years in the 1990’s, and even experienced some limited success. However, there was never any question that Lute had the upper hand (even in local commercials satirizing the “rivalry” between the coaches). To put it another way Bill coached the Generals and Lute coached the Globetrotters.

SC: I always liked James Harden, even if he killed Arizona throughout his career. His game is just so smooth.

EA: I’m going with an unconventional choice here with Derek Glasser. A key part of the historic Three Game Win Streak up in Tempe, Glasser was annoying as heck on a few spring afternoons but it’s impossible to not respect what he did under Herb Sendek’s offense. He finished his career as the ASU record holder in assists and games played, a sign of his durability and knowledge of the game. At 6’1, he was never destined to be NBA material but had everything a fan could want in a college point guard.

There was some Twistophere spice going on between Jahii Carson and Mark Lyons (I think one of you started it), what do you expect to see from these two on Saturday?

BH: If we’re talking about Lyons on Sunday, we’ll be talking about his defense. Maybe we’ll see Nick Johnson and Lyons double team Carson—worked for DePaul. But then, does Arizona’s already porous perimeter defense risk leaving Carrick Felix or Evan Gordan open beyond the arc? My expectation: post-game pub is directed at someone not named Lyons or Carson.

SC: I think they get after each other all game long. Lyons has the size and strength advantage, while Carson is incredibly quick and seems to play at a crazy level when at home. I’d be surprised if both players don’t have upwards of 15 points.

EA: Although crazy things are always known to happen in rivalry games, I expect much of the norm from both of the starting point guards. Lyons will continue to frustrate Wildcats fans at one moment with sloppy passing or contested layups and then awe them the next with a dazzling drive to the bucket. Carson will be asked to put up another 20 point, five assist type performance to keep the Sun Devils offense facilitating. 

What do you love about this Arizona team?

BH: Kevin Parrom.

SC: After essentially playing all last season with one player in the rotation above 6’6, the size Arizona has in the paint is a welcome addition. And other than the San Diego St. championship game in Hawaii, UA has shot free throws very well all year. That’s always nice for one’s blood pressure.

EA: Without hesitation, the answer is Lyons. Although he can often force up NBA range threes and drives to the lane only supposed to be attempted by Derrick Rose, he knows how to close games out. After seeing Arizona struggle in the final minutes of play repeatedly last season, it’s a relief to know there is a guy on the roster who has all the confidence in the world that he will make the game-winner.

If you had one super power what would it be?

BH: Teleport.

SC: The power to make Kate Upton love me.

EA: This is a question I’ve pondered since second grade literature arts class and in the years since, only one superpower stands out above the rest: time traveling. I mean who wouldn’t want to be able to revisit in person Eddie House’s 61 point night in Berkley or Miles Simon’s 3/4 court “Do You Believe In Miracles WHAT?” buzzer beater?

Give me your tears gypsy thoughts on the freshman class now halfway through their first season in Tucson.

BH: They’re probably doing about as well as we should have expected. That being the case Arizona has won games in spite of them, not because of them this year. They’ve shown flashes of greatness on par with their potential, but as fans we’re still waiting for the monorail we were pitched. But if one or all of the freshman can steadily improve between now and March this team will be hard to beat rather than just dangerous.

SC: It’s been a mixed bag so far, although they’ve all shown flashes of being studs. Jerrett and Ashley really got after it against Oregon State after being challenged following a lackluster showing in Eugene. As they continue to get accustomed to the grind of a college season, the sky is the limit.

EA: Not all freshmen are going to be Anthony Davis, something Big Blue Nation is learning a lot harder fashion than Arizona fans this year. As for the trio of big men in Tucson blooming like the flowers on prickly pear cacti, patience is the key word. While all three have shown glimpses of their potential, inconsistent play is inevitable. Even when not playing at the level Sean Miller expects of them this point in the season, Tarczewski, Ashley, and Jerrett still bring much needed size that Arizona fatally lacked the last time it drove up Interstate 10 to play the Sun Devils.

Alright, I know you guys watch all the games so you know best…what happens Saturday in Tempe?

BH: I think Arizona feels like it has something to prove after getting out gunned in Eugene. If they can channel that into some defensive intensity I like their chances. On the other side: this is the Super Bowl for ASU and its fan base. I look for ASU to come out swinging and land a few punches early; I expect attendance to increase 200% (and still not sell out); and I expect ASU to lose by 8. In short: if the Cats keep Jahii from doing his thing (which they can, just ask Kenny Boynton) the Sun Devils will have more problems than they always have. Arizona wins 78-70.

SC: I think it’s a pretty close game throughout. I wouldn’t be surprised to see ASU move out to an early lead with the crowd behind them, but their lack of depth will show in the second half. In the end, UA’s experience and talent advantage off the bench leads them to a 77-73 win.

EA: Predictable at this point, Arizona State will keep things close and probably hold the lead for a good portion of the game. Bachynski should torment Tarczewski in the paint and the Sun Devil shooters always seem to feel a little bit hotter from behind the arc when the opponents are wearing navy blue and cardinal red. In the final minutes however, Arizona’s depth and the dominance of Solomon Hill will be just too much for ASU. It is a rivalry game so anything can happen but come Saturday night, I don’t think Carson will be typing out any snarky 140 character comments.

 

As our contributors note, Wells Fargo will be unrecognizably rocking; the game tight and competition fierce. The Wildcats should win. I’ve been there for this one, as BH mentioned. I wish I could be there Saturday and I hope that you are. Tweet me some pics and wish me luck streaming this thing on an SWA flight sitting right next to the best Wildcat I know, baby brother.

MonitorsTucson

Is Colorado Still Reeling from the Monitors?

I love the momentum of sport. For all of our advanced stats and my sophomoric understanding of them, there is no way to quantify the ramifications of a fortuitous bounce, well-earned technical foul, or a botched whistle. Timeouts are used to slow it and, arguably, entire game strategies are executed to limit it. Have you watched a Bo Ryan game?

So when the stripes went to the monitors two weeks ago to examine whether or not Sabatino Chen had just beat the third ranked team in the country on their home floor, the Buff’s claim to momentum laid in the balances. They’d blown a big lead but were handed the chance to garner it all back as Chen banked home the proposed game winner.

The rest will become history.

Since that moment the Buffs are 1-4 and scratching their heads as to how they got here. Two days after that moment Colorado jumped out to an explosive 17-4 lead on the host Sun Devils and looked the part of a team that prepared to take care of business. But ASU would not go quietly and wound up grinding out a victory. For arguably the second straight game, momentum was ripped right out of Buffalo hands.

Against Arizona, in regulation, Tad’s team shot 10-15 from three. Terrific. For the season these Buffs have been limiting their total number of threes (I like) despite shooting a very respectable 36%. However, since those three men waved away from the monitors, Colorado is shooting 12-65 from distance. To be clear on two fronts: 1) that includes the Arizona overtime, and 2) the math suggests that is an abysmal 18%. I don’t love a reliance on the three point bucket but regardless of dependencies, a sub 1-in-5 success rate is not good begging the question, slump or fact? By my feeble attempt to quantify momentum, the Buffs seem to have lost it since it was snatched from their hands.

And watch a Colorado game. They don’t seem to be able to grab momentum when it’s ripe for the taking. Take last night for example: The Buffs came out playing staunch defense and were chipping away at UW’s eight point lead. They had it cut to five, allowing just five shot attempts for the Huskies in the opening five minutes. Comparatively the Buffs – who we’ve noted are having shooting issues – got up ten shots connecting on just one. Alas, all things defensive clicking and momentum at their fingertips…Scott Suggs…four…point…play. Momentum.

As it were today, it appears history was written that night in Tucson. Colorado has perhaps let the magnitude of that moment best them; not necessarily the mark of a champion. But the season is young still and momentum can turn on a dime; a shot here, a block there, a whistle, a bounce, an affirming gesture. Where it comes from no one knows.

So for the Buffs, momentum remains in the balances, the coveted and inexplicable asset. I suppose for some help we could ask CJ Wilcox about it.