Greg Hansen: Cats' recent improvement hard to believe

2010-02-12T00:00:00Z 2014-10-29T08:51:26Z Greg Hansen: Cats' recent improvement hard to believe Greg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 12, 2010 12:00 am  • 

In an attempt to fix what ailed an 8-23 Oregon basketball team, someone in the school's front office, or someone from Nike, deposited a $300,000 bonus in Mike Dunlap's bank account and asked him, please, do unto the Ducks what you did for Arizona's 2009 Sweet 16 team.

Dunlap has reinvented himself, a troubleshooter-for-hire, collecting $350,000 for a brief 10 months at McKale Center, and parlaying it into a guaranteed two-year deal at Oregon for $1.1 million.

Or, something close to the value of Oregon coach Ernie Kent's collection of game-day attire.

But the problem with expecting Dunlap to turn the Ducks from 8-23 to 23-8 is that he couldn't take Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill and Nic Wise with him. The Ducks looked as uncoachable Thursday as they usually do in a year they don't have Luke Ridnour or Aaron Brooks playing point guard.

Arizona put on a dunkfest, winning 70-57, and it's unlikely the Wildcats will have Kent to kick around much longer. At a time Oregon should be thriving, taking advantage of the chaos and general slippage of the Pac-10's traditional Big Three - Arizona, Stanford and UCLA - the Ducks are tied for last place.

That's not a good place to be in the worst year of Pac-10 basketball since 1985.

It is almost inconceivable that Sean Miller has salvaged Arizona's season, getting the Wildcats to within a game of first-place, while the more experienced Ducks are headed for Kent's ninth non-winning Pac-10 season in 13 years.

Sometimes it's not about beating the other guys as it is letting them beat themselves.

Arizona's freshmen scored 49 points and shot .645 percent (20 for 31) from the field. Many of them were uncontested; 11 of the 15 second-half field goals were dunks or layups.

"It was open all the time," said UA freshman Solomon Hill. "When we got it moving, they couldn't find us."

Dunlap looks just like he did sitting on Arizona's bench last year, clipboard in hand, saying all the right things and diagramming plays that often worked when Budinger or Hill were on the floor.

It all came apart in five easy pieces with Arizona leading 22-20 in the final five minutes of the first half.

Matt Humphrey rushed a 20-footer, missing, before the Ducks could set up on offense.

Tajuan Porter lost the ball on a reckless drive in the paint.

Porter again turned the ball over on a wild fast break.

Porter then missed a three-point attempt from what seemed to be Speedway Boulevard.

Attempting to dribble in a crowd, center Michael Dunigan lost the ball.

By then, before you could check the spelling on "Natyazhko dunks," Arizona led 33-22. The game was essentially over.

If indeed Kent has coached his last game against Arizona, he checks out having been swept seven times by Arizona (he swept the UA once), just in time for the Ducks to open their $200 million Nike-inspired arena. Good timing, huh? It would also mean that Dunlap will collect his guaranteed money, move out of his temporary digs and wait for the next available trouble spot.

Hey, it worked for Kevin O'Neill.

If it were not a conflict of interest, the Ducks would be wise to hire Miller as a consultant in their likely clean-house-before-moving-to-a-new-house scenario.

The Wildcats have improved so noticeably since New Year's Day that it's sometimes difficult to imagine they lost to BYU by 30, and were a miracle shot away from losing to Lipscomb.

The improvements? MoMo Jones has emerged as a reliable Pac-10 performer. Derrick Williams used the last five weeks to become an all-conference player. Brendon Lavender has turned into a deadly three-point shooting option. And, now, Natyazhko is starting to look like a useful player.

He actually outplayed Oregon's Dunigan, a struggling sophomore who has the body and the potential to be the league's top center.

"We're going to be very good," said Jones. "We've just worked and worked and worked hard to get where we are now. Coach Miller said all the stuff we did in the preseason was going to kick in, and he's right."

Some of it must be that Miller played a rigorous nonconference schedule, using it as a teaching tool, learning, whether Arizona won or lost. By comparison, Kent scheduled a series of mushballs: Winston-Salem State, UC-Davis, Montana, Montana State, Mississippi Valley State, Oakland, Idaho State and Arkansas Pine-Bluff.

Apparently the Ducks didn't learn enough even to be prepared for the most vulnerable Pac-10 of the last 25 years. It's sad to see Dunlap get caught up in such a mess, but college basketball isn't about being fair. It's about being better than the other guy.

And this time, Arizona is better, and Oregon is the other guy.

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