HANSEN

Greg Hansen: Cats, young big men have time to recover

2013-01-12T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen: Cats, young big men have time to recoverGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 12, 2013 12:00 am  • 

CORVALLIS, Ore.

As if on cue, a team that had its 14-0 bubble pierced 18 hours earlier walked into Gill Coliseum on Friday afternoon, a place forever haunted by the greatest season-opening streak in Pac-12 history.

Oregon State won 26 consecutive games to start the 1980-81 season and do you know what it got the Beavers?

It got them the most crushing losses this league has ever known. It got them decades of heartbreak.

The '81 Beavers lost their home finale to Arizona State, on Senior Day, but were still ranked No. 1 entering the NCAA tournament, whereupon they dropped a soul-wrenching, last-shot, tournament opener to Kansas State.

Oregon State finished 26-2. That 26-0 start was as insignificant as a bug splattering against your windshield.

I don't buy the it's-a-good-loss theory, but if nothing else, Thursday's setback at Oregon allows Arizona to concentrate on the game at hand and not those it lugs into the arena.

After a near-sleepless night in his Eugene hotel, during which he re-examined almost every facet of his team's in-game operations, UA coach Sean Miller arrived at Gill Coliseum on Friday determined to fix his club's defense and to reapportion the playing time of those in his rotation.

Arizona's loss at Oregon had nothing to do with the karma from a 14-0 streak, or the attention it attracted.

If Miller doesn't know, who does?

"It's all defense right now with us," he said. "It's overwhelming how our defense has slipped."

Streaks come, streaks go. Good defense has the power to endure.

In Miller's final season at Xavier, 2008-09, the Musketeers opened 9-0 and were then slapped into reality by Duke, 82-64. The Muskies forgot Duke, recovered, stretched their record to 20-2 and ultimately reached the Sweet 16.

Now, in his fourth year at Arizona, Miller is more concerned about the suddenly stalled development of freshmen big men Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett and Brandon Ashley than he is about the Ducks' in-your-face celebration before he could exit the court.

Here's what I mean: With under 7 minutes left in Thursday's game, trailing the Ducks 60-52, Tarczewski went to rebound a missed Oregon shot as his teammates sped downcourt, relishing a chance to cut deeper into UO's lead.

But Tarczewski didn't strongly protect the ball, which was stolen from his grasp by Ducks guard Dominic Artis, who then passed to guard E.J. Singler, spotting up for an open three-pointer.

Singler scored. Oregon's lead grew to 63-52 and on the sideline, Miller almost croaked. He immediately had Tarczewski removed from the game. The damage was done.

A year ago, it was unthinkable that anybody playing Tarczewski's powerful Massachusetts prep school team could've yanked the ball from his grasp so easily. Such is the learning curve that confronts Tarczewski, Ashley and Jerrett.

You can't relax anymore. This isn't St. Mark's School.

"When I say effort, it's not not trying," Miller said late Thursday. "It's trying, but knowing that there's another level you have to try to reach.

"It's not running fast, it's running as fast as you can. It's not being great on every defensive possession as much as playing with unbelievable effort and concentration, and sustaining it not just in four-minute bursts but in a 20-minute burst."

So far, 15 games into their college careers, Arizona's freshmen big men are having difficulty getting those bursts figured out.

"You'd be surprised how four minutes can seem like a lifetime to a player," Miller said.

The damage done in Eugene should be minimal and temporary. As far as can be researched, history-making starts for Pac-12 basketball teams have not meant much in March.

Stanford matched OSU's 26-0 start in 2003-04, lost Game 27, at Washington, and reached the NCAA round of 32, whereupon it was eliminated by Alabama.

Earlier, in 2000-01, Stanford soared to a 20-0 start, lost at home to UCLA and finished the regular season 28-2, after falling a step short of the Final Four to eventual national champion Maryland.

UCLA had a pair of 14-0 starts, in 1991-92 and in 2006-07. Much like Arizona on Thursday, the Bruins lost Game 15 both times, at Oregon in 2007 and at home against USC in 1992.

The Bruins recovered nicely. In '92 they went 28-5 and reached the Elite Eight. The '07 Bruins played in the national championship game and finished 30-6.

The best way to treat Arizona's slip-up in Eugene is to relate it to a 20-game winning pitcher who throws a few home-run balls, has a bad night, and can't wait for his next start.

The first pitch is due at dinnertime.

On StarNet: Join fellow fans in a live chat during today's game at live.azstarnet.com

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