Tag Archives: Belmont Bruins

Sometimes the Moment Doesn’t Quite Shine

LaQuinton Ross got open and that point guard lauded for his playmaking ability found the pistol hot wing. Onions ensued in a play Grant Jerrett said he’d wear the blame for. All screens are switched, that one was not. It became central to the post game dialogue, a dissection of the biggest shot yet made in this tournament. In that unfortunate moment of miscommunication, Grant Jerrett remained on ball. But to point a finger at Grant is to dismiss the mal-execution of a second half’s transition defense. It’s to dismiss the unfortunate lack of offensive execution in the game’s third quarter. It’s to ignore the great fortune of the Ross jumper.

But there’s only one shining moment.

And for nine straight points, Solomon Hill would not retire. Hell for four years he built for games like this and when he found his team facing their biggest deficit of the game, he carried them. With just a quarter of game in a career to be revered as All-Time remaining, “my man” – as Sean Miller once put it – was not ready to leave. The senior from Los Angeles, the senior of the Miller-era, the senior who played every role the program needed, our senior, scored nine straight points. He might go, but not quietly.

Neither would Mark Lyons. This young man, he of every possible storyline, was not about to hang up the Arizona #2 jersey he adorned for one triumphant season of basketball. Albeit brief, the young man from Schenectady, NY was about as Wildcat as they get. Disregard the position you thought he would, could or should play. He played like hell, he played like March, he scored 73-points. And as it appeared his hand was going to be forced to hang that top up, there he was. As we’d seen across 34 previous games – from the unforgettable in Patric Young’s face to the forgettable inside Pauley – our rent-a-point and his own Onions were streaking to the basket, drawing Ross’ contact, and allowing our hearts to soar with hope and our minds to wander to far away places like Atlanta.

But there’s only one shining moment.

And for two coaches with the history they share and the respect they hold and the friendship they maintain, what did all that mean? With the three dropped and the heave intercepted and the buzzer buzzed, Thad Matta and Sean Miller embraced and smiled, understanding that what had just transpired – regardless of which side of the scoreboard you sat on – was special. That their season’s work could lead to a tie ball game with but a handful of ticks remaining in a situation begging to build on the lore of our favorite month. Yeah, they smiled. Helluva game.

Thad marches on with his scarlet army. A very good team with some marvelously talented players. Aaron Craft is all the headache they said he’d be and Deshaun Thomas is all the beast anyone can handle. And their role players? Well if you’re OK calling a 6’8″ slashing and shooting sixth man named LaQuinton Ross a “role player” then I’m satisfied in telling you that Ohio State’s role players are fantastic.

Sean, on the other hand, will console his Wildcats and himself. He may have smiled court side with his old pal but inside he hurts – I certainly do. Because that’s the last we’ll see of that senior who did score nine straight; and that guard who drew the contact; and everything that Kevin Parrom brought to Tucson. That’s it for him and those three. The others will learn from the experience and some day be able to draw upon the magnitude of a tremendous Sweet Sixteen and make plays in the mold of their departed teammates.

But there is only one shining moment.

There’s a sound reason they call this thing madness. It’s the natural byproduct of 67 games to crown one team. We celebrate a solitary moment, the one we says shines because it’s the moment in which all of these moments collide into something special. And when it doesn’t happen that way, when someone else captures their own version of the shine, sometimes we forget all that was so special about getting to that point.

Like when the season was debuted in front of a packed McKale, the 1988 team honored and the vaunted freshmen unveiled. Like first tip against Charleston Southern when the promise of perhaps capturing that shining moment was about as green as it could possibly be. Like that first taste of vulnerability as the Clemson Tigers gave the Wildcats their best shot. And then the Cats swung right back, showing the kind of toughness requisite to special seasons.

And Florida. And Miami. And Nick’s block. And Colorado.

Of course Pac-12 play left something to be desired heading to Vegas looking worse for the wear. And then they were found and whether he touched the ball or not Sean Miller loudly and expensively reminded his team that they were exactly that: A team. That he had their back and they his. That individually they weren’t going to capture any moments but that the team would.

Belmont. Harvard.

Which brings us back to a dribbling Aaron Craft awaiting a screen from his sixth man following yet another dramatic and fervent Wildcat comeback. The kind we’d become accustomed to in this confusing, exhilarating, shining season.

There may be just one shining moment, because not all of them can be shiny.

But I sure enjoyed all the others.

3-0

I don’t know if the title of this post will hold but it certainly was nice for an evening, wasn’t it? And I should be clear, I’m not all that big on doing things for the haters. They gonna hate. No, I like the idea of winning for those who support us.

Because we watched this conference season long and sure, we saw their lows. But we also saw the highs. We saw that those Berkeley guards were assassins and that the Arizona freshmen were ginormous and that the Ducks could defend. Day one’s results aren’t indicative of anything colossally important. It was three good teams playing three good games. It just happened to be on the biggest stage. I’m into that but not smearing it in (too many) faces because, well, there’s too much still to accomplish.

For now…feels good.

Oregon – The question I kept asking was whether or not Oklahoma State or Oregon was more upset about the Ducks’ twelve seed. Now, writing this late Thursday night, my assumption that the Cowboys were pissed to face the Pac-12 tourney champs was confirmed. Because they lost. Oregon leaned on the efforts of Arsalan Kazemi (11/17) to move their way past the aptly seeded Cowboys. Oregon reminded us that they’re a defensively oriented squad; limiting the Cowboys to just 40% shooting and 4 offensive rebounds. The point, however, is that the Ducks were the assertive group. The statistical breakdown doesn’t exactly suggest a dominant victory, but it was. A sign that the Ducks were the aggressor and unafraid of the tournament.

California – It’s not very often that a team garners an out-of-conference rematch. Cal got their re-shot at the UNLV Rebels and won. Boom. Limiting the Rebs to zero buckets across an eleven minute stretch in the second half. That, my friends, is what I’d call a great success. The Bears applied the age-old belief that guards dominate this month as Crabbe and Cobbs combined for half of Cal’s points (32 of 64). This, whether it’s sustainable or not, is how the Bears do it. The Mountain West sustained their second loss of the night (see ya’ MWC champs) and may have demonstrated their general propensity for clutch losing. Have I gone too far?

Arizona – Can you call a 6-over-11 game an upset? It seemed the case as everyone considered Belmont ready to win their first tournament game. They had the outcome (first tourney win) and court (SLC) correct. Just the wrong team. Harvard upset Steve Alford following Arizona’s dominant performance for their first ever NCAA Tournament victory. Back to Bruins and Cats. Belmont managed to get the game within three late in the first half but never made it spicy again. Which is no knock on the Bruins. Arizona was the better team heading in (6v11, duh) and then went ahead and asserted themselves as such. Which hasn’t been the general case for this group. They’ve lost seven games to Pac-12 opponents which is not necessarily a bad thing but it ain’t all that impressive. However, considering Arizona’s issues against Pac-12 opposition, context might help. The Bruins rated 53rd per KenPom. That would place them sixth in the P12. Is Arizona figuring it all out?

The Dancing Arizona Wildcats (by unbiased, biased BH)

I couldn’t quite give this one an un-biased spin so I asked my buddy Brad to craft this here tourney preview. Full disclosure, he’s 110% Wildcat.

Not too long ago, Arizona was projected as the top seed in the West region. Arizona stumbled to the finish line and enters the tournament as a 6 seed, having split their last 10 games. However, this is still a team that started 14-0 and knocked off Florida–the best team in the country. Arizona has also played some of its best basketball over the last 4 games and seems to have patched up its shoddy three point defense. The question for Arizona, and its fans, is which team will show up: the team that started 14-0 and played inspired defense over the last two weeks; or the team that found a way to lose to USC? The experts are counting on the latter, as Belmont is the chicest upset bid in the entire draw (9 of 12 CBS Experts pick Belmont, as did The President). Only one way to find out: let’s dance!

Why I like them: Sean Miller. Sean Miller coached teams do well in tournaments: he has coached in the NCAA Tournament 5 times and been to the second weekend 3 times. More importantly Arizona is loaded with talent. The team sports a group of freshman that comprised a top 5 recruiting class and is collectively playing their best basketball of the season right now. Additionally, Arizona starts three seniors who all have aspirations of playing professional basketball. The most encouraging reason to like the Wildcats is that in the past three games, they’ve held opponents to 12-39 (30 percent) from behind the arc–six points lower than their season average 36 percent. Bottom line: Arizona has the talent, the coach, the experience and the pedigree to beat any team on any given night.

Why I don’t like them: They allowed teams to shoot threes at a 36 percent clip this year; that’s good for 276 best in the country. (Belmont has two senior guards that shoot over 40 percent from three, and one–Ian Clark–is the best 3 point shooter in the nation). After starting 14-0, Arizona only managed to beat one team (Colorado) in the top half of the Pac-12 conference the rest of the way. To make matters worse, reliable Senior’s Solomon Hill and Mark Lyons shot the three at a less than 30 percent clip the last ten games of the season; while playmaker Nick Johnson disappeared for the month of February and most of March. Bottom line: Arizona has played inconsistently and shown an ability at times to lose to any team on any given night.

Poetic Justice: Kevin Parrom endured a tragic and well documented year that saw him lose his grandmother and mother to cancer and then endure recovering from a gun shot wound. He chose not to redshirt just so he could keep his mind on basketball and now he leads his team on a special tournament run. Mark Lyons came here for one season: to win. And so he does and Sean Miller’s first recruiting class leaves their mark on the program.

Best possible scenario: Arizona’s defense shows up and their size and athleticism overwhelms Belmont. In a second round tossup Mark Lyons is lights out from behind the arc, and Arizona prevails in a close game against a talented New Mexico squad. In the Sweet 16 Arizona gets some help from Iowa State who shoots lights out from three in the first two rounds, knocks off Ohio State, and then goes cold against the Wildcats. Finally, Arizona’s length gives Kelly Olynyk fits in the Elite 8, and Grant Jerrett plays the game of his life, as the Wildcats head to the Final Four. Sean Miller’s first. Ultimately, the Wildcats run out of steam in the national semi-finals but, man, what a run.