Hansen's Sunday Notebook: Wildcats in a shooting slump

February 16, 2014 12:00 am

Insights from Greg Hansen on the past week's sports news of local interest.

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  • I exited Wells Fargo Arena a few ticks before midnight Friday and was caught in a rush of ESPN technicians and laborers loading equipment into a super 18-wheeler.

    I asked the driver where he was headed.

    “Waco, Texas,” he said. “Doing the Oklahoma State-Baylor game there on Monday night.”

    The college basketball season stops for no man, not in February, not when it’s still four weeks until Selection Sunday. Nobody pats you on the back and says “you were robbed” or “you’re THIS close to being 25-0.”

    Arizona is fracturing before our eyes for the simplest reason in basketball: It can’t consistently shoot accurately. No matter what the percentages say, this is becoming the worst-shooting UA team since Lute Olson’s first year in Tucson, 1983-84.

    Since Brandon Ashley was hurt, Nick Johnson has shot 2 for 24 from three-point range. In that same period, he is 14 for 60 overall. That’s 23 percent.

    He is the club’s most reliable shooter. Only reliable shooter? On Friday, no one from the bullpen, no one on the UA bench, scored a point.

    I maintained a year ago that Mark Lyons was the top recruit in Pac-12 basketball, better than all the freshmen All-Americans, especially UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad, because he could score in the clutch.

    Without Lyons last year, Arizona’s 27-win, Sweet 16 team would’ve struggled just to get to the NIT.

    That’s why I think this year’s leading recruit in the Pac-12 is ASU senior Jermaine Marshall, a one year-rental player from Penn State, 23 years old, who is this year’s Mark Lyons.

    Before arriving at ASU, Marshall scored 29 points against Michigan State, 25 against Michigan and 23 against Wisconsin. Nobody in the league brought in someone, not even a McDonald’s All-American, with the impact of Marshall.

    And on Friday, scoring 29 points, including eight in succession late in the second overtime, he was the difference against Arizona. He was Mark Lyons and then some.

    ASU coach Herb Sendek recruits counter to the accepted formula of Top 25 programs like Arizona.

    His all-conference center, Jordan Bachynski is a 24-year-old returned Mormon missionary from Canada. Sendek saved his job by convincing Marshall that he could form the league’s best threesome, with Bachynski and guard Jahii Carson, rather than fitting into a smaller role at North Carolina.

    The game is fluid. Out goes Angelo Chol. In comes Jermaine Marshall. Big loss. Big gain.

    After Friday’s agonizing loss, no one chummed up to Sean Miller and said, “If only Grant Jerrett hadn’t gone, you’d have crushed the Sun Devils.”

    Grant Jerrett? He scored 64 points (including 10 three-pointers) in three NBA D League games between Feb. 4-11.

    He’s not coming back, and the Sun Devils aren’t going away.

  • In his only media interview since a mysterious leave of absence and resignation as Arizona’s swimming coach, Eric Hansen said it was just a matter of time before he left.

    “This job was 24/7 since I’ve been here,’’ he told his hometown newspaper, the Sioux City (Iowa) Journal last week. “I’d wake up at 3 and run from 3:30 to 5. I’d drive to work and meet with my staff from 5:30 to 6, coach from 6 to 8, work in the office till 2, train from 2 to 4:30, go home and make recruiting calls till 8.

    “It was do-able for awhile, but you realize at some point that you’re living your work and not living much.’’

    Hansen indicated that his involvement in USA Swimming, helping to coach the national teams in Spain, China and Russia, was too time-consuming.

    For better or worse, given the UA’s rank as one of college swimming’s four or five top programs, coaching the national team is part of the job. Hansen’s predecessor Frank Busch spent the last 10 years of his Arizona stay as a prominent USA Swimming coach.

    Some coaches can swing it, some can’t. Arizona softball coach Mike Candrea coached the U.S. Olympic team in 2004 and 2008. He led the NCAA not only in softball, but probably in offseason hotel points and airline miles for a decade.

    Hansen told the Journal he plans to join his brother’s real estate business in Denver.

  • The week after letter-of-intent ceremonies was supposed to be a quiet one for Arizona football coach Rich Rodriguez. Instead, it turned out to be an overload.

    Not only did the Wildcats make at least 10 scholarship offers to elite players in the high school class of 2015, including two quarterbacks and coveted defensive linemen Jacob Daniel of Fresno, Calif., and Finton Connolly of Gilbert, they essentially staged a “Junior Day’’ on campus Saturday, making a full-blown recruiting presentation to more than a dozen of the West’s leading prospects.

    RichRod further went on the offensive, on every conceivable radio program from ESPN to one in small-town Macon, Ga., to assail those who would legislate his play-fast offense out of college football. It was, in a sense, telling Phil Niekro he couldn’t throw his knuckleball anymore because hitters couldn’t be sure where it was going. Maybe it would hit them in the head.

    Arizona athletic trainer Randy Cohen, who chairs the college committee of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, rebutted a proposal that a speedy offensive tempo is a danger to player safety.

    “If you want to do it for a competitive advantage, then come out and say you’re doing it for a competitive advantage,” said Cohen. “Don’t say it’s a safety issue because right now we don’t have any data about this. None.”

    Cohen further told the Birmingham (Ala.) News: “If you’re running up-tempo offense, is that a higher risk or lower risk versus lining up two tight ends and a fullback for smashmouth football? I’d say our team gets beat up more when we play Stanford and smashmouth football than when we play Oregon and up-tempo.”

  • Tucson’s most enduring sporting event, La Fiesta de los Vaqueros, will again attract more than 50,000 people at the Tucson Rodeo Grounds this week.

    Four-time world champion barrel racer Sherry Cervi of Marana, who has only competed in one rodeo this year — some barrel racers have been in 17 already — is a lot like Tiger Woods. She picks her battles carefully and loads up her schedule for the mid-summer “majors.”

    Of the 653 contestants entered, 14 are named Cody. Rodeo names are the best. Here’s my top 10 among Tucson’s 653 entries:

    Catfish BrownTuf Cooper and Whip Lewis.

    Stetson VestPistol Robinson and Buck Moon.

    Cutter ParsonsCheyenne KellyBucky Campbell and Colt Bruce.

    But none are superior to former world champion Jim Shoulders.

  • Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne delivered some unexpected financial news to UA basketball and football season ticket holders last week. In his weekly “Wildcat Wednesday’’ email dispatch, Byrne notified his customers that they would be charged a one-time contribution to help renovate McKale Center. “This contribution is not optional,’’ he wrote. For a guy with two tickets in a middle-tier seat at McKale Center, that’s an extra $200 in addition to the $150-per seat priority fee person. Or, $500 above the price for two season tickets. The business of operating an elite-level college athletic department isn’t getting any cheaper. Kentucky last week announced plans for a $310 million makeover of Rupp Arena. Oregon charges a $5,000 surcharge per year for primo, lower-level seats at new Matthew Knight Arena and insists fans sign up for five years.

  • Three of the top stories in Tucson baseball entering 2014 spring training are as follows: 1) Can Sunnyside High grad Stefen Romero climb from the Pacific Coast League to the Seattle Mariners roster, becoming the 43rd high school player from Tucson to reach the big leagues; 2) Will the Baltimore Orioles re-sign All-Star shortstop J.J. Hardy of Sabino High School, who is in the final year of a $22.5 million contract? Or will Hardy gamble that the Yankees, who need to replace Derek Jeter in 2015, will look his way; 3) Can CDO grad C. J. Ziegler, who was the 2013 Independent League Player of the Year, at Wichita, reach the big leagues with his new team, the Minnesota Twins?

  • The ongoing Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles was without Tiger WoodsPhil Mickelson and Adam Scott. What’s more, Fred CouplesMatt Kuchar and Rickie Fowler missed the cut, and Ernie ElsKeegan BradleyIan Poulter and Justin Rose are out of contention. That makes this week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championships look much more favorable. If the mighty and traditional old L.A. Open is a snoozer, no one’s immune. 

  • What makes Catalina Foothills girls soccer coach Charlie Kendrick record so remarkable is that prior to Saturday’s state title loss to Buckeye Verrado, Kendrick had won seven state championships in seven title games. He was 7 for 7 with Falcons teams that went a cumulative 150-9-3. Try to beat that.

  • In 1998, Herb Sendek coached North Carolina State to a victory at No. 1 North Carolina when Sean Miller was on his staff.

    Two years later, trying to reach his first NCAA Tournament at NC State, Sendek lost his star shooting guard, Archie Miller, to back surgery. Minus Sean’s younger brother, the Wolfpack, who opened 15-4, then lost eight straight games and missed the NCAAs.

    Sendek was all but vilified.

    If you stay in the game long enough, you get your moments, and on Friday, Sendek had one of the good ones.

    I hope people in Phoenix pay some attention. On my drive to Tempe on Friday afternoon, I listened to sports-talk shows 620-AM and 910-AM for two hours, changing from one to another, never missing a topic.

    Except for a scoreboard reminder, there was not a syllable spoken about the night’s UA-ASU game. Nothing.

    The Phoenix sports-talkers discussed Johnny Football, the Arizona Cardinals’ secondary issues, the Dodgers’ outfield plans, interviewed D’backs outfielder Cody Ross, chatted at length about the NFL’s ongoing gay issues, went on and on about Carmelo Anthony’s trade options and even got involved in a discussion about Buffalo Bills backup quarterback Kevin Kolb.

    But not a word on Arizona-ASU hoops.

    Sometime this week, word of the Sun Devils’ victory over No. 2 Arizona should reach the Phoenix audience.

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