Greg Hansen: UA between 'rock bottom' and hard place

2010-02-14T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen: UA between 'rock bottom' and hard place Greg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 14, 2010 12:00 am  • 

In victory and defeat, joy and sorrow, sickness and health, Sean Miller's first Arizona basketball team has somehow made you like and respect the club.

McKale Center has rarely been louder than it has been the last month. All the seats are full again. We luv 'em unconditionally.

So isn't it odd that the last man to buy in is Sean Miller himself?

After the Wildcats unwittingly served as a dummy in Oregon State's clinic on how to play effective defense Saturday night, Miller insisted he had never felt so low in 23 years of college basketball. And he included his redshirt year at Pitt.

"Never like this," he said.

"This is rock bottom for me," he insisted.

The Beavers won 63-55 and although Miller didn't identify any individual suspects, he accused his team of crimes of the heart. The Wildcats played with a lack of intelligence and a lack of confidence. When the going got tough, Oregon State punched the UA's lights out.

"I attribute this to toughness even more than execution," OSU coach Craig Robinson said. "We executed well, but that's because our guys took their punches and stayed tough."

You couldn't have seen this coming, or predicted it, because the Wildcats have mostly been sound and fearless since that 30-point thing against BYU on Dec. 28. But on Saturday, they took such a step backward that it defies common sense to think they've got what it takes to rally, go on a nice run and finish much more than .500 this year.

I say this not because I have any insider data, but because Miller seemed so defeated. He coached at Xavier for eight years, more than 250 games, and yet said Saturday's game was worse than any of them.

Nor did he seem to have a particular plan, no coaching genius to put his team back together again. He said he has likely exhausted the get-in-their-face ploy.

"You only have so many bullets in your gun," he said. "I've (already) used a few."

Being down is a relative term in the Pac-10 this year because everybody, even first-place Cal, has spent time in the dumps. But nobody has been down longer than the Beavers, who have gone through five coaching changes since they last won at McKale, on Jan. 29, 1983.

Thus, the last great regular-season streak of note from the Lute Olson years has gone kaput. Arizona had whipped the Beavers 27 consecutive seasons at McKale, an almost foolproof streak that went back to the Ralph Miller days. Miller was 63 on the day he coached OSU to its last victory in Tucson. He would now be 90, rest his soul.

Sean Miller probably feels older than that today.

But not Robinson, who found a way to cover up for his team's manpower issues by playing an unstinting 1-3-1 zone defense (and other zone variables) that confused Arizona from the opening tip.

"This place is so hard to win at on an ordinary day, let alone with a 27-year streak or whatever it is going against you," Robinson said. "This place has one of the best home-court advantages in college sports and in the history of college basketball."

The crowd was superb on Saturday. It was loud, louder and LOUDEST. And yet the Wildcats couldn't crack the zone and couldn't stop Robinson's Princeton-style backdoor cuts that resulted in way too many easy layups.

The waste of such an advantageous setting seemed to make Miller ill.

"(For an opposing team) to win in this building is hard to do," Miller said. "It's an incredibly hostile environment."

The Princeton style of basketball, as played by Oregon State, is an emotional killer. It took away Arizona's slashing and cutting offense and appeared to make the Wildcats emotionless. In the end, even after tying it at 37 in the final 10:03, the Wildcats appeared to be spent.

It's not entirely unexpected that such a young team would have a night like this, but to Miller's credit, he's not going to accept that as an excuse.

Now that Arizona's spell over OSU has ended, the longest home winning streak against a conference opponent (BCS leagues only) is probably the 26-gamer that Kansas has over Colorado at Allen Fieldhouse. The Wildcats realistically had little chance to break the Pac-10 record: UCLA beat Cal 31 consecutive times at Pauley Pavilion from 1961 to 1990.

The OSU streak is immediately insignificant. The most important streaks in UA history remain the 71-game McKale winning streak of 1987-1992, and the ongoing 25-year streak of NCAA tournament appearances.

Outside of winning the Pac-10 tournament, losing to Oregon State seriously diminishes any vague chance the Wildcats had to qualify as an at-large entry. For the Wildcats, it is now a matter of finishing strong, qualifying for the NIT and regaining Miller's trust.

As the Beavers left McKale, preparing for a late-night bus ride to Phoenix, guard Calvin Haynes picked up a box of pizza and smiled.

"This feels good," he said. "It makes the gum in my mouth taste better; sure makes this pizza taste a lot better."

For Arizona, it's a taste that can't go away soon enough.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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