Schu Strings: Top-ranking, Lavin & Blockbuster

The rankings proclaim No. 1 yet again, but Arizona Coach Lute Olson says his team is playing nothing like the top cat in the land. <BR> Wednesday night's ASU matchup at McKale was indicative of Arizona's frustration for much of the season. There's no question this team is talented. And there's no question this team has the ability to use that talent to its advantage, and use that talent to make a deep run as the favorite come NCAA tournament time.

But there obviously remains work to do. Most notably, in the areas of focus and concentration. At this stage, Arizona looks like its own worst enemy, and it might need a serious dose of reality before this trend costs it deeply during March Madness.

The UA simply dominated ASU for 30 minutes at McKale. A Sun Devil team that desperately wanted to make a statement and show it belonged appeared instead dangerously close to getting run out of the gym by a UA unit clicking on all cylinders. Arizona listened to the game plan, especially on the defensive end, where it shut down Arizona State to the tune of 25 percent shooting in the first half. Its implementation of man-to-man and a 1-3-1 zone with senior point guard Jason Gardner running the baseline kept an improved Sun Devil squad off balance for most of the night.

Offensively, Arizona was rarely outstanding, but the defense was so suffocating that it opened up a 26-point second-half lead. To make matters apparently worse for ASU, team leader Tommy Smith fouled out with 12 minutes remaining.

Instead, it was the best thing that could happen to the Sun Devils. From that point on, Arizona went through the motions. It opted for one-on-one play or spectacular highlight-designed showmanship on the offensive end, thus foregoing anything resembling a team game. Meanwhile, ASU started penetrating Arizona's defense. Guard Curtis Millage got into the lane at will, while freshman sensation Ike Diogu started dominating the glass and getting to the foul line, while Arizona State's lone sharpshooter, Kenny Crandall, found his range.

Before long, Arizona's 26-point advantage was cut to five. But when things got tight, Arizona focused again, and held off the Sun Devil rally for an eight-point win. Perhaps the greatest indicator of the Wildcats' lack of focus is the shooting percentage from the foul line. Over the course of the last four games, the Wildcats are below 60 percent from the charity stripe. They were 3-for-11 at one point in the ASU encounter. However, with the game on the line, Gardner and fellow senior Rick Anderson converted down the stretch.

The UA shot well into the 70s from the foul line last season. It's basically the same team, but outside of Salim Stoudamire, the free throw shooting has slipped across the board. Arizona can do many things well, but until it appreciates the value of focus of concentration over a 40-minute time frame, and applies that in game situations, its attempt at a second national title will encounter added hardship.

I find myself feeling bad for Steve Lavin, and not just because I have this really cool T-shirt from a Lavin basketball camp, but simply because the sensation aspect of his UCLA hotseat situation, for me, has just gotten tired.

Lavin is the prime example of what's wrong with being a central figure in a diversionary endeavor, i.e. sports and entertainment. The very arena Lavin performs is figuratively and literally built for voyeurism. His boys play in a bowl while others watch. Every coach, every actor, every politician understands this when he or she enters that field, but for some the microscope is focused more intensely.

Lavin has always been a whipping boy at UCLA, but this year it's exponentially worse. In the past, he's been very good at deflecting the criticism by saying he knew what he was getting into when he landed the job. But after so many years, it's simply lip service. That kind of constant berating would wear anyone down, and it has taken its toll on UCLA's headman just as it took its toll on Dick Tomey during the latter days of his 14-year tenure with the Arizona football team.

I'm not here to say Lavin has done a good job, or has UCLA at a level for which that tradition-rich program would be proud. That would be ludicrous. At UCLA, you shouldn't be in a position where landing Evan Burns is a make-or-break scenario. But to me, the whole Lavin watch thing got tired a long time ago.

Thankfully, the circus is about to end its run. Hopefully for Lavin, in the years to come he'll be able to set up his tent at another, more understanding location, where he can grow as a coach without enduring the constant barrage of displeasure.

On occasion, I've been told that hate is a very strong word. Sounds like neat-o advice. I should be mellow, sedate, let things roll off my back. Yeah right. Not when it comes to Blockbuster Video. I hate Blockbuster. You know, I almost actually detest Blockbuster. Blockbuster in a mighty irritant, and I get especially irked when individuals I know insist on going to Blockbuster to pick up movies to rent.

For instance, Cat Tracks Editor Brad Allis has a Blockbuster card. Now he'll tell you it's about convenience, or some such thing, but on one occasion a group of folk endured the arduous task of renting a movie. Naturally, the more hands in the stew, the more consternation the cauldron creates. Or something. Anyway, we probably walked around that damn store before settling on Glass House, a horrible horror flick starring that one girl with the redundant first name and unpronounceable last name who looks something like a cross between Julia Stiles and a young Helen Hunt.

Naturally, we should be chastised for this hideous choice of cinema anyway, but getting it at Blockbuster made it even worse. We couldn't even get through the thing because of the scratches on the DVD, even though we knew how bad it was based on what we were able to see.

Really, that incident wasn't so bad in regards to my overall feelings about Blockbuster. I just wanted to bag on Brad.

A few years back, Blockbuster decided it wouldn't show NC-17 movies without editing them down to an R rating. There's a video store in Tucson that actually does this, but at least tells you about the practice. That's what the store is about. Blockbuster never bothered to advertise this minor piece of information, instead acting as if it somehow had the market on editorial censorship. It was at that instant I promised myself I would never spend money with them again.

But recently it's gotten even more irritating, for Blockbuster has changed its return policy. Most video stores give you until the end of a business day to return the product before late fees kick in. Not Blockbuster, which somewhere along the line decided to implement a noon due date for returns. Gee, I wonder why that is. Perhaps it's to blatantly increase its profit margin on the heels of additional late fees. Golly, what a great business practice that is.

Thankfully, in Tucson we're blessed with Casa Video, one of the truly great movie rental houses in the Western United States. And yes, I know, I've been to many. And fortunately, many Tucsonans believe in the value of Casa as well, because that place is always packed.

Chalk one up for the locals. Blockbuster, go sponsor a concert venue in Phoenix or something. Oh wait, you aren't doing that anymore. Maybe you can charge hourly late fee rates to make up the difference on that bonehead investment.

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