Mark Lyons was the first to emerge from Arizona's locker room Saturday night at Friel Court. As usual he was trying to beat the clock.
"Got 20 minutes before the bus," he said, and then repeated with emphasis. "Twenty minutes! Gotta go."
The man known as "Cheeks" to his teammates, and "Moog" to his boyhood friends, cut his interview remarks to a pair of questions, one for each of his nicknames.
He joined his teammates, newly restored to first-place in Pac-12 hoops, on a late-night bus ride to Lewiston, Idaho, inside coach Sean Miller's 20-minutes-to-departure edict.
The Wildcats were in the air by midnight and home by about 3 a.m. There will be no physical hangover from the Pac-12's most foreboding road trip.
This is the way it is done at the highest level of college basketball in 2013. You don't leave your team's well-being to chance.
By comparison, I walked into the Spokane, Wash., airport in the Sunday morning darkness and found myself on the same flight to Las Vegas with the San Jose State basketball team.
As Arizona thumped Wazzu on Saturday night in Pullman, San Jose State lost at Moscow, Idaho, seven miles east. The Spartans then took a 90-mile midnight bus ride to Spokane, got up after four hours of sleep and took a Spokane-Las Vegas-San Francisco flight that barely beat kickoff for the late afternoon Super Bowl.
No wonder the Spartans got swept over the weekend by Seattle and Idaho. No wonder they have lost seven straight games.
Times have so changed that it's now difficult to fathom Arizona used to split its Washington-WSU trip, flying to each game separately, weeks apart, as recently as 1989.
This is the new Pac-12. Charter flights. Every game televised. About the only thing that remains the same is that the league is wildly unpredictable. Here's how it stands entering the second half:
• All-Pac-12 five: Jahii Carson, ASU; Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA; Solomon Hill, Arizona; Brock Motum, Wazzu; Mark Lyons, Arizona. Comment: Carson is a game-changer, dictating every possession, the worthy knockoff to ex-Oregon star Aaron Brooks. Carson is so good he makes Herb Sendek look like a Carnegie Mellon grad. (Which he is).
• All-freshman five: Carson, Muhammad, UCLA's Jordan Adams, Utah's Jordan Loveridge and Colorado's Josh Scott. Comment: By year's end, swift Washington guard Andrew Andrews and improving Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski could knock Scott and Loveridge from the list.
• Most disappointing team: USC. What was Kevin O'Neill thinking? He left a roster so skewed with odd-fitting parts, it's like a golfer packing two drivers, three putters and a couple of 2-irons for an important round. Runner-up: Colorado. The Buffaloes look good in the airport, they've got five above-average starters - no stars - but Saturday's loss at Utah continued a baffling season. Four daunting road games remain.
• Coach of the first half: Sean Miller. Any coach who re-invents his offense, handing it over to a 22-year-old shooting guard, showing patience and belief while incorporating three freshmen into the rotation and going 4-1 on the Pac-12 road, knows his stuff.
• Team most likely to back up: Oregon. The Ducks' signature player is senior E.J. Singler, who is quietly having a not-so-good season. Singler is shooting .402 afield and scoring just 10.8. That's a go-to guy? The Ducks attracted so much attention to themselves, opening 7-0, that now they're getting everyone's best shot. Prediction: Oregon is a nice team but lacking in star-power, and is likely to get swept in Washington and lose at Colorado.
• Team on thin ice: Arizona State. Its inside game is fragile and thin. After allowing 96 at Washington, Sendek lamented that UW scored 50 points in the paint. Trouble with the Sun Devils is that center Jordan Bachynski is big but glacier-like. Forward Jonathan Gilling, a designated shooter, often shoots his team out of a game with too many three-point attempts. He was 1 for 5 against Utah, 1-6 versus Colorado, 1-7 at WSU, 2-7 against UCLA and 1-5 at Oregon. Can Carson bail them out of tight spots every week?
• The Bay Area conundrum: Both Stanford and Cal finished the first half 5-4, so they're contenders, on paper. But the Bears have no bench and are limited inside, and Stanford is the league's worst-shooting team (41 percent). Very tough road ahead; both visit the Arizona and Oregon schools. Prediction: Winner of the Cal-Stanford game in Berkeley goes 10-8, loser finishes 9-9.
• Three underappreciated players who can make a second-half difference: 1, Stanford's 6-10 junior center Dwight Powell, who has scored in double figures in nine consecutive games and had 13 rebounds against both Oregon and UCLA. Could he be the league's all-star center by March? 2, Nick Johnson, Arizona. Is he the league's top defensive player? He leads in steals (2.2 per game) and has come to relish the role as a stopper. He steps up in late-game crisis. 3, Travis Wear, UCLA. He's a matchup problem for every team because of his size (6-10) and shooting skills. If the Bruins freshman brigade can play more consistently, Wear could help the Bruins go 8-1 in the second half.
• Mid-year prediction: The March 2 winner of the Arizona-UCLA game at Pauley Pavilion will be the league champion.