Greg Hansen: Buzz in Utah is sound of silence

2012-01-20T00:00:00Z 2012-01-20T06:36:11Z Greg Hansen: Buzz in Utah is sound of silenceGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 20, 2012 12:00 am  • 

SALT LAKE CITY  — Utah fractured tradition Thursday night when the Huntsman Center's public-address announcer failed to identify any of the Arizona Wildcats after a made basket.

Each time Arizona scored there was no response. Silence.

Hello? Was the game that awful?

The typical protocol in college basketball, in the Pac-12, is for the home PA guy to resort to a monotone and say, for example, "basket by Fogg." Or simply, "Fogg."

At first I thought it might have been that outside of Pima County, this is the most unidentifiable of all Arizona teams dating to 1985. Or maybe the PA guy spilled a soda on the lineup, and everything blurred to look like "Natyazhko."

I also considered that maybe the Utes were conserving electricity, given that no more than 4,000 people showed up to watch the homeboys, leaving 11,000 empty seats and a lot of unrealized revenue that isn't going to help in the payoff of two fired Utah coaches.

Or maybe the Utes just aren't very hospitable. This is almost sure to be the worst team in school history, covering 100 years, and, hey, who cares about protocol in times like this?

On the few occasions the Utes rallied, the PA guy would come to life and shout, "I CAN'T HEAR YOU!" Who does that in big-time college hoops?

But my best guess is that the PA guy simply exercised caution. Upon witnessing Arizona's flat performance in the first 22 minutes - sound familiar? - he didn't want a live mike to catch him muttering, "we're losing to these guys?"

Arizona won 77-51 even though Solomon Hill was ejected for cracking an opponent in the back of the head, even though Sean Miller's team appears to have hit a midseason wall, even though the Wildcats were playing at altitude and even though no Wildcat scored more than 12 points.

After the game, Miller forbade his players from talking to reporters and for good reason.

He did not want them to speak publicly about Hill's ejection because (a) none of them had seen a video and knew exactly what happened and (b) the last thing Arizona needs is to foster a reputation as a dirty team. The less chatter about last week's row with Oregon State and Thursday's ejection means there is more time to talk about the most precious thing in Pac-12 basketball: a road victory.

"We didn't come in with a lot of confidence following our loss to Oregon," said Miller.

That much was manifest early. Arizona committed four early turnovers and was clearly skittish. But once it settled down in the silence of the once-loud, once-proud arena, freshman Josiah Turner might have played his finest college game. He had but one turnover in 25 minutes and ran the team without difficulty once Hill departed.

Miller seemed the most happy with the fact his team committed just five turnovers over the last 32 minutes. It's not sexy, but it might be the surest way for Arizona to have a chance to win at Colorado on Saturday, and later, when they encounter Pac-12 contenders Cal, Stanford and Washington for the first time.

"We turned it around and won convincingly," he said.

Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak had another view. "I think it was related to our guys running out of gas," he said.

Beyond that, it's difficult to translate what any game against Utah means. There's a good reason that the $5 tickets - the cheap seats in the upper tier of the Huntsman Center - went virtually unused.

The Utes were caught so flat when Jim Boylen's regime went bust, that the collateral damage of player attrition and recruiting losses has been incalculable. It's likely Krystkowiak is looking at a six-year plan. Check back in 2017.

The analysts who predicted that it would take Miller six years to put Arizona back together have been off by two years. The Wildcats seem poised to be a powerhouse again next year. But Utah's situation is far more bleak than just about any in the Pac-12 over the last 30 years, perhaps similar to that of the 2007-08 Oregon State Beavers, who went 0-18 after firing Jay John in mid-season.

The Utes lost to the Little Four this year - Montana State, Harvard, UNC-Asheville and Weber State - they're shooting just .283 from three-point range and averaging a bare 56 points a game. And except for stunning Wazzu two weeks ago, seem to have just two more chances to win: Saturday against Arizona State and later against USC.

But Arizona has enough to worry about without feeling empathy for the Utes.

When the Wildcats play at Colorado, they'll meet a team with more size, a 10-1 home record and great motivation. Don't expect the sounds of silence Saturday in Boulder.

On StarNet: See more photos from the game at azstarnet.com/gallery

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