In one aspect they are right. Arizona was 19-12 after the regular season. Had they beaten inferior teams like Oregon, Oregon State, Houston and USC they would have been 23-8, a five or six seed. Had they taken care of the ball in the final moments against Washington they might have been 24-7, and playing their first round games in San Diego.
You could tell that the Wildcat coaches felt that the team that showed up in Philadelphia was the REAL Wildcat team. The team they envisioned last October when Olson claimed they could be better than last year's team.
IF that is true. If the effective team we saw at the Wachovia Center was the real Wildcats, then yes, the staff should be frustrated.
But was that the real Wildcats?
We point to the games the Cats could have won, but we also have to look at the games the Cats could have lost.
The Cats could have fallen to NAU and Western Kentucky. The Cats probably should have lost to Oregon at McKale and Stanford sent their game at McKale to overtime. Even Washington State was within a possession in the final minutes in Tucson. If four of those games go the other way, the Cats are 15-16 and don't make the N.I.T., much less the NCAA's. Even at 16-15 this is the worst Wildcat team since Lute Olson's first year.
The end of the season leaves a positive taste in one's mouth, but leads to a bunch of ‘what ifs'. What if Jawann McClellan had been healthy? What if Jesus Verdejo had stuck around? What if Marcus Williams had made his foul shots against Michigan State or Washington? What if Kirk Walters could have redshirted one of his first two seasons? What if Mustafa Shakur had played the whole season like he played the last month? What if Chris Rodgers had been a good teammate?
Of course, you could look at a lot of ‘what ifs' the other way. What if Hassan Adams had gone pro? What if Mustafa Shakur played every game as he played against UCLA? What if Bret Brielmaier had accepted the scholarship offer to NAU or Loyola Marymount? What if Oregon did not turnover the ball in the final seconds against the Cats? What if Western Kentucky had pulled off the upset? What if Jawann McClellan really did transfer to Texas or Lute Olson waited on Martell Webster and passed on Williams? We can play the what if game all day, but it won't change anything. Every season has its share of ‘what ifs'. What if Illinois had been whistled for a few fouls down the stretch last season? What if Olson had started Andre Iguodala and Hassan Adams in the second half of the Kansas game in 2004? What if Jason Williams had been whistled for his fourth foul in the 2001 championship game? What if Gilbert Arenas was healthy in that same game?
You can't dwell on the ‘what ifs'. You can only dwell on the cards you were dealt. This was a Wildcat team that had to deal with numerous distractions, both public and private. This was a team that lost their two best players from the year before, including one of the best big men in school history and the best outside shooter since Steve Kerr. This was a team breaking in a new assistant and a staff reshuffling. This was a team that was without one of their best young players for all but 40 minutes in Jawann McClellan.
This was a team that had an inconsistent point guard and a lack of stability in the post. They were a team that were not great on offense, and downright bad from behind the arc. This was a team that had injuries, suspensions and personality conflicts.
In the end this was a team with a load of athletic ability but just too many holes. No shooters, no consistent rebounders and not enough leadership.
The coaches felt pretty good about what this team could be, but in the end they had to deal with what they were. What they were was a good, not a great team who fought like crazy in the final game against a better team.
Arizona gave Villanova all they could handle. Arizona fought the good fight. Now Wildcat fans can erase the trials of the 2005-06 season and start dreaming of next year.