*Driving back from Phoenix with Arizona assistant coach Rodney Tention on Friday night was an experience to say the least. Our fearless publisher, Doug Carr, fell asleep on the way up and on the way back so I figured it was my journalistic duty to start asking questions to the Wildcat coach while I had the opportunity in this informal setting.
The Wildcats were playing UCLA game the next morning. Coach Tention asked me what my prediction was and--sticking to what I posted on this board--I told him Arizona by five.
"No," Tention said. "We'll win by ten, you watch."
Some twelve hours later, I approached Coach T in the locker room after the Arizona win and the first thing he said was, "What'd I say? What'd I say? We would win by ten!"
I'm not sure if he was including the actual process that the ten-point win came by but nonetheless, he picked the exact spread.
Cat Tracks is going to be doing special interviews with both Tention and coach Jay John with inside looks and insights to the team. From now on I will definitely be asking Coach T to predict the scores more often.
*More from Tention: I asked him what the difference was in the second half as opposed to the first half against the Bruins.
"We told them to make shooters drivers, simple." He said.
II. "Smilin' Steve Lavin"-
*As I walked into the postgame press conference room after Saturday's game, I got there just as UCLA head coach Steve Lavin was finishing up and walking out. Lute Olson was waiting outside and talking to a reporter when Lavin came out the door.
I expected an awkward situation or for Lavin to be very upset or at least pretty frustrated after his super talented team just folded and blew a 20-point lead with under 15 minutes to play. Instead, Lavin was smiling and seemed to be in high spirits.
He actually walked by Lute and said, "Hey, good game coach, we'll talk to ya later!"
He said this in a cheerful tone and Lute seemed to be taken aback at first before finally responding with, "Yeah...good luck Steve."
Maybe it's just me but if my team blew a 20-point second half lead and wound up losing by double digits, they'd be running so much they wouldn't need to catch the flight home.
I've got to give Lavin some credit though. He seems as if he's a very likeable guy.
III. Awards of the Weekend-
*Player of the Week: Luke Walton, Arizona. As if there was going to be any question about who would win this one, right? The Wildcat junior had a triple-double (27, 11, 10) vs. USC and then had 18, seven and seven against UCLA. You know you had a good week when you AVERAGED 22.5 points, nine boards and 8.5 assists per game.
Let me be the first to state this publicly: Luke Walton will be an All-American before he leaves Arizona.
*Freshman of the Week: Salim Stoudamire, Arizona. Salim distanced himself from everyone except fellow Arizona frosh Channing Frye in the race for conference Freshman of the Year honors by scoring 30 points and making six three-pointers in Arizona's two wins over the L.A. schools. Stoudamire also set a new school record with his 30th consecutive free throw against USC and has since extended his record to 35 straight.
*Speaking of school records, Frye is close to setting one of his own by making his last 16 field goal attempts. Cat Tracks will check with Arizona basketball coordinator Richard Paige later this afternoon to see what the actual record is but either way, Frye has been very impressive lately. He was 5-5 against Washington, 5-5 against USC and then 6-6 against UCLA. The game before the streak started, he was ONLY 5-6 at Washington State.
Wow, what was the matter with him against the Cougars? Anyway...
*Game of the Week: Arizona 96, UCLA 86. All I can say if you haven't seen it by now is, "Find a tape and don't EVER record over it".
*Loudest Crowd of All-Time award: The McKale Center faithful. If jets soaring close overhead are louder, I'd have to hear it to believe it. The McKale crowd was so loud it almost hurt. And when Jason Gardner lined up his three-point shot that would give Arizona its first lead at 76-75, the girl sitting next to me from the Riverside News actually plugged her ears and winced right before the ball snapped the net. The crowd made a noise that can only be described as an "explosion".
*Dumbest quote of the week: Bill Frieder guaranteeing that ASU would beat Arizona this week. Since when does anyone with ASU ties have the audacity to guarantee anything over Arizona? And why would anyone consider Frieder some sort of expert on anything anyway? If he knows so much why did he resign at Michigan three weeks before that team won the national championship in 1989 to take the job at AS-freakin'-U???
Something tells me that the Wildcat freshmen are going to really enjoy beating up on the Sun Devils on Wednesday in their first meeting with "The Little Team That Can't" in Tempe.
*Best Prediction of the week: ASU's Tommy Smith will foul out before the first TV timeout of the second half. He never learns and he exemplifies what is wrong with Rob Evans's program: no discipline and no teaching. It's really too bad because Tommy Smith is an all-conference talent.
IV. Jason Gardner's leadership mantra-
*The Wildcats have shown the tendency to fall into deep holes during some games only to comeback with heart and a desire unmatched by previous Arizona teams. The key to all of those comebacks has been Jason Gardner, who--other than Miles Simon--is the best Wildcat ever to put on an Arizona uniform when it comes to "willing" his teams to victory.
I think it is fitting to use a quote from the band Rage Against The Machine when trying to sum up how Jason Gardner is able to get his teammates to believe in one another enough to stop teams from beating the Wildcats in HIS house.
After all, Arizona basketball is a family and there are times when the head of that family has to step up and make a stand. So, the most appropriate line I can give you about Jason's mentality is this:
"Rally 'round the family with a pocket full of shells."