Schu Strings: The wacky weekend that was

What a weekend in Arizona sports, and much of it wasn't good. In separate incidents, the UA lost a highly-touted recruit when it had been the favorite all along, got its record NCAA tournament streak snapped and endured a loony-tune conclusion to the weekend baseball series.

Let's start with Friday. D-Day for Mario Chalmers, the highly-regarded point guard from Alaska. Since the onset of Chalmers' recruitment, Arizona was considered the team to beat. Well, after a visit to Kansas last weekend, the team to beat got taken to the cleaners. Chalmers selected KU over the UA at a press conference in Alaska. While not the end of the world, it's a significant blow to Arizona, which had targeted Chalmers as its focus recruit for the class of 05. The UA is still in line for some players of significance, especially at the wing positions. In the backcourt, Seattle prospect Terrence Williams is now a likely high-profile target, but the 6-6, 230-pound combo guard is getting love from Kansas as well. KU has already mustered a monster recruiting week, and if it can lure Williams to Lawrence as well, it could act as a serious wake-up call in Tucson.

Recruiting is a hard bird to figure, largely because it's based on the whims of teenagers, but more often than not, the team that is the initial favorite ends up being the school of choice. For Chalmers, Arizona was the favorite and couldn't close the deal. If it was Roy Williams coaching Kansas, this could be easier to explain. I think Bill Self is a great coach. He won at Tulsa, he won at Illinois, he's winning at Kansas, but Bill Self is not Lute Olson. Perhaps in a decade he'll be part of that elite class, but he isn't there now. Olson should be losing occasional recruiting battles to Williams at North Carolina, Duke, perhaps Jim Calhoun at UConn and maybe to UCLA for a Southern California prospect. It shouldn't be losing to a Kansas team coached by someone who simply isn't in that echelon yet. Of course, the way Self is going, Kansas fans might soon be asking, "Roy who?"

Saturday: The UA softball team lost consecutive games and got eliminated from regional play for the first time since 1987. Arizona dropped a one-run decision to eventual regional champ Oklahoma in the winner's bracket and couldn't bounce back later in the evening, suffering a clubbing shutout at the hands of Louisiana-Lafayette. In short, this is Larry Ray's biggest nightmare, and he addressed that sentiment to the media after his UA squad was soundly thumped at home.

Despite an amazing regular season, Ray will sadly be remembered as the interim coach who couldn't do what Mike Candrea has with regularity: get Arizona to the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately, as much as he will be probably unfairly criticized, it's the type of setback that will likely eat at Ray for the rest of his coaching days.

The UA's consecutive tournament streak is a remarkable feat, even moreso given the tenuous nature of the regional setup. Arizona's success in said events has been nothing more than phenomenal, and it has made a habit out of winning key games in the event.

The Wildcats were in the winner's bracket when they matched up with Oklahoma. Had they won that game, the road to another NCAA appearance would have been made a lot easier. That's an encounter the Cats have thrived on in the past, and when it didn't happen this time around they weren't able to bounce back.

Oklahoma, which has been a thorn in Arizona's side in its two most successful team sports, softball and men's basketball, earned the journey to the NCAAs.

Sunday: At this point last week, the UA baseball team was about to embark on the game of the year, a 19-18 come-from-behind triumph over then No. 2-ranked Stanford. It would parlay that into a series win Monday afternoon, thus giving itself a solid opportunity to advance to post-season play.

Seven days later, those dreams were in serious jeopardy after two resounding defeats at the hands of ASU. But it looked as though the UA was set to salvage one win in the series finale, and indeed that's what happened, but not without some curious events down the stretch.

Arizona State had cut the Wildcat lead to 13-7 and loaded the bases with two out in the top of the eighth inning. Additionally, ASU had its heavy hitter on deck, a batter who had blasted two home runs on the afternoon already. On the key play, Wildcat shortstop Jason Donald fielded a grounder to short. He made the deep throw to second, but it was obviously late. Run scores, 13-8, bases loaded again with an opportunity for ASU to really trim to lead.

Well, not so fast. The runner was obviously safe, that is, except for the third base umpire, who called him out. By every respectable account, it was a terrible call. Not surprisingly, ASU skipper Pat Murphy went ballistic, and after a lengthy tirade it appeared he was pulling the team from the field. What had actually happened is that a Pac-10 rule, put into play this year, had been invoked. On travel days, there's a four-hour time limit to baseball games. As of the eighth, that had been exceeded. So Arizona State didn't get its eighth run, it didn't get its big bat at the plate with the bases loaded, and it didn't get an opportunity to rally in the ninth. Arizona, however, did get the win, and if it can muster a couple victories at USC this weekend, it might still find itself in postseason play.

Most of us might not be real thrilled about Monday, but the Arizona athletic department is probably happy to have it here.


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