Hansen's Sunday Notebook: Wildcats' cool under pressure will keep them No. 1 into January

December 15, 2013 12:00 am

This week, Greg Hansen dishes on Sean Miller's squad's white-knuckle grip on the top spot in the country, a local golf legend's passing, a younger local golf star becoming a legend, a barrel racing legend and more.

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  • In Saturday’s postgame interview with CBS’s Greg Anthony, Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller tellingly said, “You can’t win a game like this unless you play a game like this.”

    At that moment, Arizona State was tipping off a home game against Grambling State.

    This isn’t a shot at the Sun Devils; it’s just that in Year 8 of coach Herb Sendek’s tenure, ASU has won a single NCAA tournament game.

    You can’t hide out in college basketball and expect to break through at the highest level. As Rich Rodriguez often says, “You’ve got to be comfortable being uncomfortable.”

    Exactly.

    Speaking of time zone changes, travel, a hostile crowd, a pumped-up opponent and an injury to center Kaleb Tarczewski, Miller said, “We had every reason to say ‘not today,’ ” on his postgame radio show Saturday. Instead, Arizona is now likely to be 15-0 entering its Jan. 9 Pac-12 showdown against UCLA at Pauley Pavilion. Arizona seems sure to hold its No. 1 ranking through four more ranking periods.

    Arizona entered Saturday’s game shooting .660 from the foul line, the lowest at Arizona since 1997. But on a day that its margin for error was almost invisible, the Wildcats went 14 for 15 from the foul line.

    Here’s a rising-to-the-occasion statistic: Arizona has shot .810 from the foul line in its three most imposing games this season — Duke, Michigan and San Diego State — and .633 against all others.

    Arizona hasn’t won anything yet. Nobody’s going to hand out a trophy of any kind for another three months. But by winning Saturday at Michigan, the Wildcats put in motion a belief that beating the Wolverines won’t be their happiest moment of the season.

  • For 23 years, Raul “Lefty” Quiroz was probably the biggest money generator for Tucson City Golf.

    Every Friday, Lefty would stage a Skins Game, mostly at El Rio Golf Course, and every week about 30 to 50 men would toss their $15 or $20 into the pot. Everybody was welcome: bankers, plumbers, professors, mailmen, even sportswriters.

    The beverage cart and the old El Rio snack bar would hum with activity. Now the place is a veritable ghost town.

    Lefty died last week, at 82, and he didn’t keep it a secret that he hopes someone spreads his ashes near El Rio’s 17th tee. “That way,” he would say, “I can keep my old friend Ruben Romero company; maybe I can get back some of the money he won from me.”

    After leaving Tucson High School and spending time in the Army, Quiroz returned home and worked almost 40 years for the postal service. He worked the Broadway and Country Club area, slinging that leather mailbag across his shoulder day after day, becoming somewhat of an institution with those along the way.

    “My dad got the most out of his life,” said his daughter, Gloria Davis. “He would play fastpitch softball two nights a week, then he’d play for his baseball team another night or two. On the weekend he would play golf, mostly at El Rio.”

    Along the way, Quiroz served on the board of the Arizona Golf Association and kept ringing the cash register for Tucson City Golf. Over the last 10 or 12 years, idled by a back problem and arthritis, he ran the Skins Game not as a player, but as a front man, arranging tee times and divvying the weekly payouts to his ever-growing group of friends.

    “We’ll have a lunch or a brunch one of these days, probably early next month at El Rio, and celebrate his life,” his daughter said Friday.

  • Two-time state girls golf champion Krystal Quihuis won her third straight Women’s City Amateur last weekend at the Randolph Golf Complex. The UA-bound senior from Salpointe Catholic won by a whopping 23 strokes, shooting a six-under 66 at Randolph in the final round. Although records for high school players haven’t been kept, Quihuis’ 66 is surely a young women’s record at Randolph, which is 84 years old. 

  • The Star’s 2012-13 high school boys basketball player of the year, Rincon/University center Asha Esprit, has chosen not to continue his basketball career. He is attending the UA on an academic scholarship (he scored 2,100 on his SAT test). Esprit averaged 24.7 points and 10.1 rebounds for coach Rich Utter’s Rangers last year and, at minimum, would be a likely starter in the ACCAC or at a mid-level four-year school of his choice. 

  • One of the most impressive gatherings of Tucson baseball instructors will take place next Saturday and Sunday at Mehl Park. That’s when Oakland A’s bench coach Chip Hale, Seattle Mariners minor league coordinator Jack Howell, former UA baseball coach Jerry Stitt, ex-Yankee outfielder Shelley Duncan, ex-Angels third baseman George Arias and several current minor-league ballplayers will conduct the Hills Baseball Pro Camp. Catalina Foothills assistant coach Blake Eager, who is also the Swedish National Team’s assistant coach, organized the camp, which runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and from noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Information: eagerbeaver15@hotmail.com.

  • In his first eight games with the Sacramento Kings, former UA star Derrick Williams averaged 29 minutes and 14 points a game. He had averaged 14 minutes at Minnesota. His field-goal percentage climbed from .352 at Minnesota to .514. Opportunity knocks.

  • While she has worked to recover from various injuries and return as one of college softball’s most productive players, Arizona senior Kenzie Fowler has made her mark academically. The former Canyon del Oro national High School Player of the Year was named outstanding graduating senior by the UA’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences for fall semester graduation. She is scheduled to speak at the college’s convocation at 5 p.m. Thursday. 

  • Two-time Ivy League basketball all-star Christine Clark was unable to play in her unofficial “homecoming” last week at ASU. Sidelined by a sprained ankle, Clark, a senior guard averaging 19.4 points, was greeted by many of her laboratory scientists from the UA Cancer Center, including Dr. David Alberts, director emeritus of the school’s Cancer Center. Clark spent the last three summers in Albert’s cancer-prevention research lab, which included a complex microscopy on biopsies of women at high risk for cancer of the cervix. If Clark’s post-Harvard basketball days don’t include the WNBA or European basketball, she plans to enter medical school. 

  • Marana’s Sherry Cervi clinched her fourth pro rodeo world championship in barrel racing (she won earlier in 1995, 1999 and 2010) even before the completion of the ongoing National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. Through Friday’s competition, Cervi had earned $250,733 in cumulative 2013 payouts. The No. 2 barrel racer, Mary Walker, at $206,527, can’t reach Cervi’s total.

  • It was impressive to see state-championship football coach Dennis Bene fly to New York City to help honor ex-Salpointe running back Johnny Peña last week at the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame banquet at the Waldorf Astoria hotel. Peña was one of five scholar-athletes from the high school class of 2012-13 honored at the Hall of Fame awards ceremony.

  • Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s thunderous, left-handed dunk against New Mexico State last week drew comparisons to the most memorable dunks in UA history. My choice has always been Pete Williams’ Jordanesque dunk over San Francisco State in 1984-85. “I remember it like yesterday,” Williams said last week. Lute Olson’s marketing people used the image of Williams’ monster dunk in media guides for several years. Sean Elliott’s 1988 Final Four tomahawk dunk against Oklahoma, driving from the foul line until he reached maximum height, belongs in the Williams category. The best pure dunker in the Olson years? Some will say Andre Iguodala or Richard Jefferson, but I’ll go with the late Bison Dele, aka Brian Williams, who seemed to have a mind-clearing thunder-jam every game, all with his long left arm.

  • Tucson’s Maddie Pothoff, one of Arizona’s leading teenage tennis players, was sidelined with a back injury from April to July but has restored her reputation quickly. Pothoff, who is home-schooled, won the Girls 16 doubles championship at the Eddie Herr Invitational last week in Bradenton, Fla., defeating the No. 1 and No. 3 seeds in doing so. Pothoff also played her first professional tournament (as an amateur), defeating two pros in Hilton Head Island, S.C., a few weeks earlier. 

  • Salpointe Catholic High’s Cam Denson was puzzlingly not chosen last week as the Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year, even though he played both ways for an undefeated state champion and accounted for 32 touchdowns and more than 2,000 yards. Scottsdale Saguaro QB Luke Rubenzer won the Gatorade award last week; it was the third time Gatorade has tapped the Saguaro program for its Arizona winner. The Arizona Republic is expected to name Denson the state’s player of the year; the Star’s Southern Arizona player of the year will be made public next week. Denson joined the Lancers’ basketball team after winning the state title Nov. 30, and has helped last year’s state runner-up go 6-0 by averaging 14.9 points per game. 

  • After three rounds of the six-round Web.com Qualifying School, Sabino grad Nathan Tyler is 13 under par and tied for fourth. After seven years of playing mini-tours, the UA grad is 54 holes from having full-time playing privileges and competing for a pool of about $30 million a year.

  • Even though he became Arizona’s first Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year, even though he rushed for 1,716 yards and led Arizona to a shocking victory over No. 5 Oregon, Ka’Deem Carey had almost no chance to be honored on the highest national stages.

    Carey doesn’t play for a national power or a sexy, must-see, primetime football program. Worse, he began the year on suspension.

    Arizona played five games that were ready-for-bed kickoff times in the East and Midwest, and was further shielded from national consciousness by the Pac-12’s standoff with DirecTV. The UA chose not to aggressively market Carey until late October.

    Carey is an acquired taste. He gets hard yards, not out-in-space, highlight yards. You have to watch him week to week, going through the grind, to appreciate how good he is. And, remember, with the exception of its victory over Oregon, the UA’s other triumphs were against six dismal teams: Cal, Colorado, Utah, UTSA, UNLV and NAU.

    If you are a star player at Florida State, you can withstand off-field woes and win the Heisman Trophy. If you gain more than 2,000 yards in a media corridor like Boston, you can win the Doak Walker Award even if your schedule is ridiculously weak.

    Those in the Pac-12 who paid attention to Carey voted him ahead of all the ballyhooed Oregon Ducks and USC Trojans, ahead of the primetime QBs at UCLA and Arizona State.

    But in 2013, in this remote pocket of the football map, it still doesn’t translate on a national stage.

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