MILL AVENUE, NO ANCHOVIES, AND BRITNI

TEMPE, AZ - Oh, Venoy. How we wish you would have taken that open 10-footer instead of passing off with 45 seconds to play. We would most certainly be talking about an A+ trip, even after those two straight piss-poor starts the team had. But we all know that wasn't the game-breaker, and I'm sure you wish the same thing. So let's leave it at that.

First off, I'd like to thank the city council of Greater Phoenix for providing us with so much wind, dust, and moisture. Maricopa County averages eight inches of rain per year. We were truly impressed that you let us experience almost half of your per annum this past weekend.

For my traveling companion Jim Horner and me, it was off the plane and straight to Mill Avenue. I mean, if you're going to Tempe and you don't cruise Mill, you're just not into college sports. After a Hooters burger and a couple of drinks, it was off to Wells Fargo Arena.

It was probably a good thing that the ASU contest wasn't televised – at least from a Sun Devil recruiting perspective. We arrived at Wells Fargo about 45 minutes before tip-off, and it was bizarre to see the Arizona State band lustily blaring for 11,000 empty seats. There was plenty of time to catch up with Chris Fetters, sitting all by himself on press row, and Bill Fleenor, who spotted me coming from a mile away since there wasn't exactly a big rush to get into the place. It was becoming old-home week when another loyal subscriber Ray Loftis spied us chatting. By the time the game tipped off, 400 or so hardy students had found their way inside, and the Husky contingent was only outnumbered about 4-to-1 overall. Too bad, the arena is actually a nice place with wonderful sight lines. I thought the sleepy atmosphere had something to do with Washington's lethargic start, though after Saturday's game I realized I was mistaken.

Actually, I thought the Huskies started out aggressive on Thursday – but with no smarts. I don't ever recall seeing a side reach their seventh team foul by the first media timeout. And here, Washington was already short-handed with the second-minute injury to Scott Suggs. Coach Romar really had no choice but to order up the zone later on to save on bodies. Of course, I had forgotten that the Sun Devils were graduates of the Shaquille O'Neal school of free-throw shooting, so my concern for an early bonus situation was short-lived. For my two cents, C.J. Wilcox was clearly the player of the game. Not only was his shot back, but he was terrific on help-side defense. It took some time, but the redshirt freshman is clearly becoming another danger for Husky opponents.

I have to admit that the triangle thing with Isaiah Thomas, Kyle Cain and Ty Abbott was the weirdest thing I had seen in a while. After Cain planted Thomas on the floor following an ASU hoop, Isaiah shot back up and went running lickety-split up the court yelling at him, and Abbott forcibly intercepted him at mid-court. The official nearest the fray pointed a "T" directly at Isaiah. Then the fun began. In PAC-10 officiating tradition, they huddled around the replay screen and then huddled with both coaches. Clearly, Sun Devil coach Herb Sendek was flabbergasted by their ruling – eventually brooding back to the bench and telling his assistant to take a technical, which he dutifully did.

But here's the thing. The PA announcer didn't tell anyone anything. So NOBODY knew what was going on. We were never informed of the ruling on the floor. It was like the officials had just decided that NOTHING happened. So the ASU crowd – all 3,000 or so – went apoplectic.

The one other item I will note was Sendek's running dialog during the entire second half with a black-clad fan seated directly behind the ASU bench. I could hear Sendek pleading with him for "fan support" and then their discussion continued – while the play was still going up and down the court. I figured that if Sendek was more worried about this particular fan's take than what was going on out on the floor … well, let's just say his position as Head Coach probably warrants a good review.

But with mission accomplished in Tempe, we took a respite from the hoops and enjoyed one hell of a meat-lovers experience at Fogo de Chao in Scottsdale. They even forgot to add the expensive bottle of wine Jim ordered to the bill. I'm not a restaurant reviewer, but if you are a carnivore connoisseur and you have a chance to do the Fogo, do it.

Saturday brought the 110-mile drive southeast to Tucson. It would have been nice to point out some of the features of this long stretch of Interstate 10. However, this is impossible because we didn't see any of it. The winds were blowing dust across the freeway so hard that twice we had to stop for brown-out conditions. After this ninety minute white-knuckler, we were WELL pleased to find a fine pizza-and-beer establishment called No Anchovies on University Avenue. Why did we choose this place? Well, there happened to be a table of Dawg Fans right there on the outer veranda. I told them all about DM.C. We have new fans, folks.

McKale Center is truly a mecca for college hoops. Like the Dawg Pack, the students are all there an hour before tipoff, 3,000 strong. There are banners and retired jerseys in every corner. We entered through a corridor with both walls teeming with team photos of all those great Lute Olson teams. There were only 150 or so Huskies in the place, the rest were all in white. There was nary an empty seat, yet the seating was comfortable. And as for atmosphere – well, even the most ardent visiting fan has to be impressed by the sights and sounds.

Frankly, I was amazed that Washington was only down nine at halftime, after pretty much giving Arizona the entire three-point line to fire away. Yeah, the Wildcats were a mind-blowing 8-for-10 from behind the arc at the half, but it was like pre-game warm-ups. They had all the time in the world to cast them up, and they weren't missing. The rebounding edge for ‘Zona was unrelenting - and ultimately damning - for the Huskies. For all the lessons Washington supposedly learned by using defense as their motor, none of it was to be found in the first 20 minutes.

Anyone reading this knows what happened in the second half, so I'll keep the dissertation short. However, I was slack-jawed that Washington could convert four straight Arizona turnovers and resulting fast breaks into two total points. I think this was just as critical to the outcome as anything. Credit the Wildcats with hustling back and making some plays. But dang. TWO points out of four straight turnovers? But I had no issue with Derrick Williams' block of Gant. Maybe Darnell could have taken it harder to the rack, but there were only 2.2 seconds left when the inbounds occurred so he had to hurry. Credit Williams with a PAC-10 player-of-the-year play.

Finally, I have to say that the U of A bunch was as classy a bunch as I have met. After the game, they were whooping and hollering as they exited – a clear sign of respect for Washington, I think – but there was no storming of the court and no disrespect for those wearing Husky colors. It made for a wonderful overall experience, even if we did lose. All I could do is smile and tell them I hope there would be a rubber match on March 12 in Los Angeles.

To a fan, they agreed.

Oh, and who is Britni, and why is she in the title to this epic tome? Well, she is the lovely blonde waitress who charmed us as we stuffed ourselves with some fine Mexican cuisine and drowned ourselves with margaritas at Papi Chulo's in Scottsdale following the dark, rainy drive back from Tucson. This St. Louis transplant helped take the sting out of such a close loss – even if they were out of Don Julio gold, my personal preference for tequila shooting.

I guess it was fitting that we had to wait until we flew home to find any sun. Still, the experience of being at McKale Center for a game like that will stay with me a long, long time.


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