Then came the Washington State game. Over the years, the Cats had dominated the Cougars of Washington State. This trend was quickly halted when WSU managed to beat the Cats in overtime. Despite getting solid performances from Mustafa Shakur, Ivan Radenovic, and Marcus Williams, the Cats couldn't take down the Cougars. Guys like Jawann McClellan and Chase Budinger were in the middle of "hitting the wall" which continued throughout the majority of the Cats' losing streak.
The Cats would go on to lose 5 of their next 7, while displaying some serious flaws that we didn't see during the 12-1 start. Lack of depth, conditioning, health, defense, and lack of offensive efficiency and consistency were all issues facing the Cats. Things were not looking good for the Cats and Wildcat nation.
The Cats were lucky to find themselves out of the month of January in which the Cats went 3-5 while suffering their worst loss during the Lute Olson era here at Arizona. The Cats would lose their first game of February, again to Washington State, but went on to beat the Huskies of Washington pretty convincingly, winning 84-54.
This was perhaps a turning point in this season as the Cats would go on to win 5 of their last 7, with the only losses coming against the two Southern California squads. Perhaps the most intriguing part of this run was the fact that the Cats won five straight games on the road, which is something even the Pac-10 champion UCLA Bruins didn't accomplish this year.
The reason why I am thinking back and reviewing the regular season from this year is because the Cats have now given their fans and Wildcat Nation another reason to "believe." With their win over Stanford today, in which Ivan Radenovic was incredible and displayed perhaps one of the greatest games in Arizona Wildcat basketball history, the Cats proved that they can win those games.
"Those" game are those were things aren't going your way late in the game, shots aren't falling, fouls are going against you, and you still manage to pull out a victory. The Stanford Cardinal lost two games at home this year (Cal & Arizona), so winning a game at Maples Pavilion is never something to take lightly. Even when these guys were in the middle of blowing a 20 point lead today, they showed the necessary desire and willingness to get the job done. It takes a lot for a team to respond to blowing a lead of that size, especially on the road and playing in a tough venue like Maples.
This team is different than the team that started the season. Chase Budinger has grown into a legit superstar; Marcus Williams has no problem sharing the spotlight with Chase; Jawann McClellan isn't as effective as he was earlier this year; Jordan Hill, even though he's struggle the last few games, has given this team a legit front court defensive presence; And there's a glimmer of hope that the bench is developing into something that can be very useful and effective come tournament time.
With that said, after seeing the Cats finish the season on a three game winning streak, and watching how they've been doing it, I am an even bigger believer in this team. I believe that this team has the ability to do something special.
Now, I'm not going to compare them or their season to the 1997 Arizona Wildcats squad, but it's tough to shy away and ignore from those comparisons. Similar success and struggles, records, performances, etc were pointed out during this season, so it's not totally out of the question.
It's not up to me, you, or anyone else to write or decide how this team will fare throughout the rest of the year. It's up to guys like Mustafa Shakur, Ivan Radenovic, and company making sure they have their pen and paper ready this March in order to write one of those story book endings to this roller coaster season.