Cats need to 'learn how to win'

There is an old cliché that a team can't start to be successful until they learn how to win. Everyone from coaches to journalists talk about learning how to win. The only question is whether the old adage is true, because if it is, the Wildcat really need to learn how to win.

I kind of always thought that the whole learning how to win thing was sort of a myth. I felt it was something that announcers just said to fill time. I always assumed it was one of those clichés like "a game of inches", "playing smart" and "every play is important". I vowed not to use it in a column or on the post game show. I had hoped not to fall into the trap of using a cliché as a crutch.

There was just one problem with my plan. It turns out the cliché is true. Teams do need to learn how to win.

If there was one player who truly symbolizes the turnaround from the Ben Lindsey era to the Lute Olson era it is Brock Brunkhorst. Brunkhorst has the distinction of being the only player to play for Fred Snowden, Lindsey and Olson. He was there for the highs and the lows. He saw the worst of times and the beginning of the renaissance. If there was one player who symbolizes rebuilding, it was Brunkhorst.

I got a call the other day, it was my barber, Bennie Garcia of II Sons on Broadway. Bennie is great friends with Brunkhorst. They talk all the time, usually about Wildcat hoops, but occasionally about the football team. After the tragic loss to the Cougars, Bennie says he got a call from Brock and the first words out of his mouth were, "this team just needs to learn how to win."

Bennie relayed this to me and suddenly my whole perspective had changed. The old cliché was true. Not only was it true, but Lute Olson's first Wildcat team lived it.

If you really want to see a team that needed to learn how to win, just look at Olson's first Arizona team in 1983-84.

The year before the Wildcats were 4-24. In fact the two years preceding Olson's hire the Wildcats were a combined 13-42. Lindsey left a team that was beaten down and utterly lacking confidence. Sound familiar?

After Olson came in, things were still bad. The Cats opened the season at 3-11. They were 5-15 before winning six of their last eight games. Of those 15 early loses, 12 were by 10 points or less. Six of those losses were by four points or less.

"We found the weirdest ways to lose game," Brunkhorst said.

The Cats lost to Washington 56-51 and to Oregon State 53-48 within a four-day span before finally getting over the hump with a 65-64 win at ASU. Six days later they beat Oregon in overtime. They would win three more games before losing again.

The next year they went 21-10 and earned a birth in the NCAA Tournament. They won most of the close games. They figured it out. They learned how to win.

This football team is in the same boat. They are 1-3, but are just a few plays from being 3-1. If they avoid some bad turnovers against Utah they could be 4-0. Some say the Wildcats are cursed or snakebit, Brunkhorst says they just need to learn how to win.

Brunkhorst sees a lot of Olson in Mike Stoops. He feels he's the right guy. He feels that the team is very close to turning the corner, all they have to do is learn how to win.


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