March Musings

In the hoop dreams of incipient springtime dance endless visions of tall young men cutting down nylon nets.

This is the time of year that Tucson sports fans love and dread in almost equal measure. The Cats are going to the NCAAs again, and while nobody I know around here is dumb enough to yawn at that notion, it's almost a conditioned response to attempt to categorize this year's product in terms of Wildcat successes and failures past. It's as though everybody turns into Greg Hansen, only without the crack research team. While Greg gets free and unfettered access to the archives, regular people attempting to discuss previous tourneys have to scan their own memory banks, all cluttered with family, car trouble and real jobs.

Now, when exactly was it that Matt Othick missed that three from the side? I think it was against Seton Hall, but I can't be sure. Was that the year that Rumeal Robinson got to shoot two free throws on a phantom call? I know my little nephew was having a party that night. Was he 2 or 3 that year? And was he really my nephew?

By the time you sort that out, whoever you were talking to is in a coma.

If you've been around here even for five years, you've been through it all, from national championships to first-round bye-byes. If you've been around since the start of Lute's mostly glorious run, you're a nervous wreck. All you want in the entire universe is for the Cats to get past this one game. Oh yeah, and world peace. Right before tip-off, the inside of your stomach will look like those pictures of slaughterhouses that the vegans keep sending me.

(Sorry, Scrawny Folks, I gave up meat again for Lent, like I always do, but I haven't lost the taste for it like you keep promising that I will. I already have the itinerary for Easter Sunday ready so that we can go straight from Mass to Popeye's Chicken. But thanks for all the cool pictures of innards and stuff.)

Remember how thrilled we oldtimers were when Arizona made it to the NCAAs in only Lute's second year? Olson had squeezed stellar play out of JC transfers Pete Williams and Eddie Smith and the Cats got an at-large bid. We all stayed up and watched the game, which was telecast on CBS after the late-night news! Of course they lost, but who cared? It's like when your high-school team goes to State and gets hammered in the first round. It doesn't matter because your team picture will forever be in that overpriced official program.

They lost in the first round again the next year, and the year after that, they suffered an ignominious defeat to Tim Hardaway and UTEP in McKale Center. (It was the last year that teams were allowed to play on their home floors, although the NCAA never seems to have a problem letting Duke play first-round games at North Carolina, which is, what, eight miles away?)

But then came the magnificent Sean Elliott-Steve Kerr-Anthony Cook team that made the run to the Final Four, and everything clicked up several notches. What followed was a rollercoaster ride of underachieving tall guys and overachieving guards, of shocking first-round exits and an even more-shocking national championship. We've seen it all and somehow, we're neither jaded nor naïve. We just want more.

The funny thing is that, if you ask 10 people to name their most vivid memory (good or bad) of Arizona in NCAA Tournament play, you're likely to get 10 different answers. Is it the Cats going the entire overtime against Kentucky in the national title game without sinking a basket and yet winning the game at the free-throw line? Is it losing in the first round to Steve Nash and Santa Clara? Some might say it's Sean Elliott knifing down the lane for a thunderous dunk against Oklahoma, while other would remember OU's Mookie Blaylock handcuffing Steve Kerr in the same game.

My daughter Darlene says the first thing she remembers is Lute Olson's hair being messed up. I reminded her that Lute sent out a memo instructing us to erase that image from our minds.

I was wondering what my first memory would be, so I used an ancient yoga technique to wipe my mind clean. (Don't say it!) When I came to, my very first thought was of ... fried chicken. But then, when I focused on the subject at hand, I saw Kenny Lofton trying to take a charge by flopping and allowing UNLV's Anderson Hunt to make a wide-open three. I remember thinking when that happened that 30 million people probably screamed at their TV sets in unison, "Ain't a ref in the world gonna call that!"

(Actually, I don't know yoga. I just watched part of Ally McBeal and it put me right out.)

This year's Wildcat team has been a delight. Not expected to do much because the lemmings ran for the money after last season, the Cats nevertheless opened the season with a splash. Using a lineup of freshmen and juniors, they smacked Maryland and Florida, played Kansas tough and beat Illinois. Then they got mugged a couple times by Oregon, won some close ones, lost some close ones, but they never got down on themselves or each other. It's just been a fun season to watch.

I want Jason Gardner, who suffered more than a little humiliation after bombing at the NBA tryout camp last summer, to win a national championship. I want him to get a championship ring, put it on his middle finger, and show it to Gilbert Arenas. I want Luke Walton, who plays the game the way it's supposed to be played (turnovers and all), to show kids that you don't need carry-the-ball crossovers and wicked dunks to win in basketball. And I want Anas Fellah, one of the nicest kids I know, to show everybody that longshot dreams can come true.

Come on, guys, just win this one game. And then do it five more times.

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