Go ahead. Call Andy Lopez names.
Tell him he’s delusional. Let him know he’s not thinking straight. Say to him he’s holding on to something he should be letting go. It won’t bother the head coach of the Arizona Wildcats, who still thinks his 17-23 club has a shot at the postseason.
“I don’t think we’re mathematically eliminated yet,” Lopez said. “At least that’s what I’ve been told by my assistant coaches. Some would say ‘well, you’re an idiot.’ And I’d say, ‘well let me continue to live my idiocy until we get mathematically eliminated and then I’ll find a new approach.’”
Lopez may have to find a new one after this weekend.
The Wildcats open a three-game series tonight against rival Arizona State at Hi Corbett Field. Losing two of three to the Sun Devils would put the Wildcats at 7-14 in Pac-12 play and a sweep would make it impossible for them to finish over .500 in the league.
In other words, it’s now or never for the underachieving Wildcats.
“You wake up every morning and you have a choice,” Lopez said. “You can go through the whole day moaning and groaning or you can go through the whole day looking forward to what it has in store for you. I’m hoping we come to the field this weekend looking forward to what it has in store for us.”
That shouldn’t be that big of a challenge for the Wildcats. It is, after all, rivalry weekend at Hi Corbett, and there’s no team in the Pac-12 that raises Arizona’s play more than the Sun Devils.
Earlier this season, in a non-conference game, the UA erased a late lead in Tempe and won a dramatic game 10-9 after Arizona closer Bobby Dalbec put the leadoff hitter in the ninth on third base with no outs.
The Wildcats also took three of five from ASU last year, even during a down season. And no one has forgotten the passionate conference series the teams played two years ago before Arizona went on to win the national championship.
If you can’t get up for ASU, who can you get up for?
“They don’t like us, we don’t like them, so it’s a mutual thing,” junior Joe Maggi said. “The U of A-ASU series in any sport, you just never know in these games. The better team seems to lose more than win. Anything can happen. The past few years have spoken true to that.”
Lopez, who saw his team muster just four combined runs and 13 hits while being swept by USC last weekend, is hoping the rivalry can ignite his team.
“It’s real,” Lopez said of the rivalry. “Anyone that says it’s not hasn’t been on the sidelines or on the court or in the dugout. It’s real. When we visit Tempe, I hear my share of it. I’m sorry to say Coach (Tim) Esmay will probably hear his fair share of it this weekend.
“It’s not manufactured, it’s not made up; it is a very real rivalry and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”
The Wildcats and Sun Devils have played five times in Tucson since UA moved to Hi Corbett, with Arizona taking three of five. None of the games have been decided by more than two runs and the run total in the five contests favors Arizona 31-30.
“I really do enjoy the rivalry,” Lopez said. “Maybe it’s because I grew up in a USC town and decided to go play at UCLA and then heard about that my entire career at UCLA. I grew up in a rivalry environment and got ingrained in it. The season would not be fulfilled if you didn’t have a rivalry.”
The Wildcats have a chance to play the spoiler role this weekend. The Sun Devils enter the series at 21-16 and ranked No. 38 in the RPI. A series loss would put ASU on the bubble for the NCAA tournament with four weekends to play.
It would also keep the Wildcats mathematically alive for another weekend.
“We won’t have any problem getting up for this one,” Maggi said. “We’ve scuffled late, but all we can do is look forward and move on. It starts this weekend with ASU.”
- Lopez said he’s hopeful center fielder
- Scott Kingery
- will be able to play this weekend. Kingery suffered a foot/heel injury against UCLA two weeks ago and started one of the three games last weekend against the Trojans at designated hitter.
“We’re hoping like heck he can play,” Lopez said. “He wasn’t the reason we didn’t hit last weekend, but it didn’t help. His numbers are proven now. He’s no fluke. He’s a catalyst.”