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UA Men's Basketball

READERS' PICK: Gosh, it seems so long ago, what with all the players scrambling to leave town within days after the NCAA Finals, but the UA men's basketball team came within a 45-second defensive lapse of winning Lute Olson's second national crown in five years and providing a fitting finale to a season torn by the tragic death of Bobbi Olson and almost derailed by shoddy play, lackluster effort and uncharacteristic finger-pointing early in the campaign. They stank for a while, even going so far as to lose the title game in the Fiesta Bowl Christmas Tournament for the first time ever. They were still in a funk late in January, but a brilliant sweep of the Bay Area schools to end the regular season propelled them into the NCAAs, where they were always solid and occasionally brilliant. The second half of the semifinal game against defending champ Michigan State was one for the ages. But cold shooting by the Wildcats and an unlikely performance by Duke Mike Dunleavy Jr. (who hit three threes in the aforementioned 45-second span in the title game) left Arizona one game short. Still, considering where they started and the depths to which they sank, this team will undoubtedly gravitate to near the top of a list of fan favorites when all is said and done. We still think that those who could have come back should have come back, but they were fun while they were here.

READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: UA Women's Softball. Oh, how we thrilled to their exploits. First, they smacked UCLA around, which is always a good thing. (In softball, UCLA stands for Unbelievable Cheaters Lure Australians). They won the conference title for the eight millionth time, then kicked the crap out of the poor souls who were sent out here to serve as fodder in the regionals. But then came the World Series, where the Cats have struggled in recent years. Sure enough, they fell behind 4-0 to the defending national champions from Oklahoma, but then stormed back to win in extra innings, 5-4. For those unfamilar with big-time softball, overcoming a 4-0 deficit late in a game is like being behind by 25 with five minutes to go in a basketball game or needing to score three TDs after the two-minute warning in football. But come back, they did. Then they beat Pac-10 rival Stanford, and then UCLA again for the title. And they have almost everybody back for next season. We know that some people think it's wrong to put too much emphasis on sports in general and winning in particular. The heck with that! We NEVER get tired of watching these women administer whuppins.

OF MYTHIC PROPORTIONS: Sahuaro High Boys' Basketball and Canyon del Oro Girls' Softball. These two squads came out of nowhere to win state championships and earn our eternal praise. Coach Dick McConnell's Sahuaro team was a huge surprise, despite having begun the season as defending state champ. The Cougars had been hit hard by graduation, but, led by seniors Marc Vielledent and Mike Wells, they put together a strong late-season run and got hot in the bizarro Class 4A state playoffs, in which some teams are forced to play five games in six days.

Canyon del Oro has long been one of the best softball programs in the state, but had been overshadowed in recent years, not by Phoenix teams but by 5A-South Conference rivals Flowing Wells and Salpointe Catholic. CDO coach Dee Dinota molded a young squad into an efficient, if not overpowering, unit. Led by the pitching of Amy Garrick, the Dorados brushed aside defending state champion Flowing Wells, slapped Salpointe around and then waltzed through the state tournament. The title was bittersweet, however, as Dinota stepped down after the season.

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