CORVALLIS, Ore. - By this afternoon, regardless of Sunday night's 76-75 loss to Oregon State, the Arizona Wildcats can claim a victory of sorts.
Their longest regular-season road trip of the decade will be over.
According to UA publicist Richard Paige, the Wildcats' five-night swing through the Willamette Valley was the longest in his 11 years with the team. The only trips that came close were the three-game Maui Invitational appearances in 2000, 2005 and 2009 but those were actually a few hours shorter - the team left on a Saturday and returned on a red-eye on Wednesday night before Thanksgiving each time.
The last time Arizona took a five-night regular-season trip was for the final two games of the 1999 Preseason NIT in New York.
This weekend, the Wildcats left on Wednesday, busing to Phoenix for a flight to Portland, then busing to Eugene for a two-night stay surrounding their game with the Ducks on Thursday. UA won 76-57.
The Wildcats then boarded a bus on Friday afternoon, drove 45 minutes to Corvallis, where they stayed another two nights. After Sunday's game, the Cats drove to a Portland airport hotel and were scheduled to return by late afternoon today.
The grand total: Roughly nine hours on a bus, six hours on airplanes and five nights in hotels.
The Wildcats spent their long New Year's weekend getting plenty of rest at least.
According to Paige, the Wildcats mostly just hung out at their hotel in Corvallis for the past two days in between practices, film sessions and meetings. Their big outing was for dinner at an Applebee's on Saturday.
"It's been completely uneventful," Paige said.
OSU freshman guard Roberto Nelson calls Corvallis "the perfect town" for him, which makes zero sense at least in climatic terms.
He's from Santa Barbara, Calif.
"It's a little bit colder and the beach is a lot further," Nelson said. "But I've had it all my life so what's a couple of years out of it? That's how I see it. I can always go back home."
The Beavers entered Sunday's game with two straight double-digit wins after struggling to a 4-6 record against a weak schedule before then.
OSU coach Craig Robinson said the improvement was due to "a little bit of everything."
It is "our seniors being more comfortable as leaders, our younger guys understanding what it takes to be college players," he said. "It is everybody understanding how important defense has been to our identity. Just because we're scoring points doesn't mean we can let other people score points. All these things we're trying to build in a positive direction take hold in their minds so that helps."
Nelson said the Beavers are a completely different team than before the two wins.
"When you watch the last two games, it's a complete turnaround," Nelson said. "Guys are a lot more confident. Making shots. The hard work in practice has paid off. That's a big thing."
2-3 hits the spot
The Beavers used a 2-3 zone defense in the first half Sunday, even though they had successfully used a 1-3-1 against Arizona last season.
"What we do is run a couple of different things and see what's working," Robinson said before Sunday's game. "The last two games it just so happens the 2-3 has been working for us. We could play Arizona and try the 1-3-1 and see if it works better."
OSU began the second half with a 1-3-1.