Star sports columnist Greg Hansen offers his opinion on recent sports news.
“It’s always marked on the calendar"
Like all Arizona-ASU sports rivalries, the ongoing softball series between the Wildcats and Sun Devils at Hillenbrand Stadium has some elements of the Hatfields and McCoys.
Here’s a big one: ASU lists its career record against the Wildcats as 100-107. That differs greatly from Arizona’s listed series record of 96-45 against ASU.
That’s a Grand Canyon-esque gap of more than 50 games, one that is likely never to be mutually settled.
How did that happen? The Sun Devils include games from ’70s, when they got off to an 11-0 start against the pre-Pac-12 Wildcats, beating them by a cumulative score of 127-19. During that period, ASU’s record included more than 20 victories over Pima College and other colleges in the ACCAC.
Whatever. The rivalry continues to ramp up, and after Arizona beat the Sun Devils 8-0 Friday, the victors did not diminish its importance.
“It’s one of the biggest rivalries in college softball,” said UA winning pitcher Taylor McQuillin, “so it’s pretty cool to go out and put on a show like our team did today."
Said UA coach Mike Candrea: “It’s always marked on the calendar.”
It wasn’t always that way. From 1991-2000, Candrea’s Wildcats went 38-0 against the Sun Devils. ASU is working on its sixth head coach in the Candrea years — the UA-ASU series can’t touch the history of the UA-UCLA rivalry — but this is no longer the 1990s in college softball. The Sun Devils are legit, if rebuilding.
Most of those in the sellout crowd Friday at Hillenbrand don’t know that Candrea grew up in Phoenix, about 15 miles from ASU’s campus, and received two degrees from ASU.
He initially played baseball at Central Arizona College, hopeful he would be a major-league ballplayer. But when he injured his elbow his plans changed.
“Thank the Lord,” he said on Friday. “It was the springboard to my coaching career.”
When Linda Wells retired as ASU’s softball coach in 2005, the Sun Devils made contact with Candrea, wondering if he had interest in completing his career at his alma mater. His answer was an emphatic “no, thanks” — Arizona immediately won the 2006 and 2007 national championships.
Now Candrea is battling to get back to the Women’s College World Series for the first time in nine years. So far, so good.
“This team is in a good place,” he said Friday. And it’s not like, at 63, he’s counting days to retirement. Arizona sold out its eighth consecutive game Saturday at the refurbished, state-of-the-art Hillenbrand Stadium.
Said the ever forward-looking Candrea: “I hope someday we can look at adding more seats.”
Barnes’ WNITs of 1996 and 2019 have changed
When Adia Barnes was building a career as the most honored women’s basketball player in UA history, she led the Wildcats to the 1996 WNIT championship. Now, as Arizona’s head coach, she’s on a mission to do the same this week.
All games this year are played on home courts, a setup determined by Triple Crown Sports, a Colorado sports promotion firm that organizes and operates the WNIT. How do you get a home court? It almost always comes down to which school guarantees Triple Crown the most money.
In 1996, Arizona played all three WNIT games at the Amarillo Civic Center in Texas. Eight teams were invited. Three victories — over Western Kentucky, Arkansas and Northwestern — gave Arizona the title. Now you need six wins.
The MVP wasn’t Barnes, it was point guard Brenda Pantoja, who had 13 assists in the WNIT title game. Pantoja has gone on to become a Final Four referee in women’s college basketball.
On Sunday at 2 p.m., Arizona plays Wyoming at McKale Center; a victory would put the Wildcats in the final foursome of WNIT teams. This isn’t new turf for the Wyoming Cowgirls: they won the 2007 WNIT, getting on a roll, outbidding foes to play at home, drawing an almost unthinkable 52,541 in six home games in Laramie.
If Arizona continues to win and plays six home games, culminating with the championship game Saturday on the CBS Sports Network, it’s likely Barnes’ team would draw close to 40,000 at McKale.
It would fully put UA women’s basketball on the Tucson map.
UA golfers headed to Augusta
Early Thursday morning, UA sophomore golf standout Yu-Sang Hou walked onto the putting green at the Dell Urich Golf Course and began an hour of practice.
It’ll be a far different scene this week for Hou, Wildcat teammate Haley Moore and Hou’s sister Vivian Hou — a high school senior who will enroll at Arizona next season. They will be putting on the greens at Augusta National Golf Course.
The Hou sisters and Moore, plus UA coach Laura Ianello, leave for Georgia on Sunday to be part of the inaugural Augusta Women’s National Amateur, the first-ever women’s tournament to be staged on the famous golf course.
Once in Augusta, the Arizona golfers will be met by Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa, the two greatest golfers in UA history. Sorenstam and Ochoa will hit ceremonial tee shots to start the final round of the AWNA on Saturday.
The 72 women’s golfers invited to Augusta will play Wednesday and Thursday at the Champions Retreat Golf Course near where the Masters is played. All will play a practice round Friday at Augusta National. The low 30 scorers will advance to the championship at Augusta National, televised Saturday on CBS.
Rincon grad back in NCAA Tournament for 21st straight year
Rincon High grad Chris Rastatter was one of five Pac-12 referees to officiate Sweet 16 games last week; it was Rastatter’s 21st consecutive year to qualify, by merit, to officiate NCAA Tournament games. Somehow, in an equation I don’t fully understand, college basketball’s premier analytics guru, Ken Pomeroy, ranks all referees. It doesn’t look good for the Pac-12, long criticized for ineffective officiating in football and basketball. Rastatter is the second-highest ranked Pac-12 referee, No. 39 in the NCAA. He trails just Final Four veteran Tony Padilla, who ranks No. 37. One of the Pac-12 officials selected to the Sweet 16 is Michael Irving, he of the infamous “he touched the ball!” episode with Sean Miller six years ago at the Pac-12 Tournament. Irving has not since officiated an Arizona game, which is unfortunate because he has continued to improve and has become one of the top officials in college basketball. Irving officiated 16 Pac-12 games this year, working for every school except Arizona. Isn’t it time for that streak to end and move on? More officiating: Tucsonan Bob Scofield worked his 20th consecutive women’s NCAA Tournament last week, in Corvallis, Oregon, and also was part of the referee staff for two of Arizona’s WNIT games at McKale Center.
Todd Holthaus' Aztecs take the road less travel
The Pima College women’s basketball team, which finished No. 5 in the nation in last week’s NJCAA championships in Arkansas, is not about the money. That’s what’s so good about it, making it so different from the chase for the big prizes in NCAA sports. PCC coach Todd Holthaus flew to Harrison, Arkansas, with his team, which required a 4 a.m. bus trip to the Phoenix airport on the way to Arkansas, and a 2 a.m. bus trip to an airport in Little Rock on the way home. No charter flights, no first-class seats, no five-star hotels. But more compelling was that Holthaus’ wife, Jennifer, and their four children drove from Tucson to Arkansas — a journey of about 2,500 miles requiring stays in four different cities on the way to and from the NJCAA tournament. That kind of togetherness and commitment trumps any college basketball game at any level.
There was more to Catalina's Ted James than what you saw on the field
Sad to learn of the death of former Catalina High School football coach Ted James, who died of cancer last week. He was 73. James arrived at Catalina in 1969 after a standout quarterbacking career at NAU. He spent two terms as Catalina’s head coach, in the ’70s and again early in the ’90s. He was a people person, teacher and coach of the first rank, a kind man and, I’m fortunate enough to know, a wonderful golf partner.
Maybe some 'pizazz' is just what Khalil Tate needs
Arizona offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone last week told reporters that he’d like QB Khalil Tate to operate more within the system so he doesn’t have to rely as much on “pizazz plays.” It was those pizazz plays that propelled Tate into college football’s consciousness in October 2017, but once defensive coaches became more adept at game-planning for Tate, those pizazz plays all but vanished. The ability of Mazzone and Tate to work more in harmony will likely determine if Arizona can win more than six games next fall.
"Great team?" What great team?
Former UA football coach Rich Rodriguez predictably told a Channel 4 interviewer last week that he was disappointed with the way Arizona fired him in January 2018, and added that he was frustrated. “We had a great team coming back,” he said. Great team? Arizona finished 5-7. It didn’t have adequate size, depth or talent to contend in the Pac-12. It might take Kevin Sumlin another year or two to dig out from under the rubble RichRod left.
Renovations, upgrades are never-ending
Former UA associate athletic director Chris Del Conte, now the athletic director at Texas, operated on a relative shoestring budget during his Arizona years under Jim Livengood, a time before Pac-12 media rights income almost quadrupled at Pac-12 schools. Arizona completed its $72 million Lowell-Stevens Football Facility five years ago and at the time it was the envy of most Power 5 football schools. Now it’s just another facility matched by every Pac-12 school, even Washington State and Oregon State. Last week, Del Conte announced that Texas is going to build a $175 million “South End Zone” project at the school. Does this ever stop? In the 2040s, will Arizona build a $150 million addition to its football plant? Book it.
Tucson athlete of the week
When Hannah Orbach-Mandel left Catalina Foothills High School in 2015, she was one of the ranking prep swimmers in Arizona, co-captain of the Falcons who accepted a scholarship to Division III swimming juggernaut Kenyon College of Ohio.
Her career at Kenyon was off-the-charts good.
At the NCAA Division III championships last week in North Carolina, Orbach-Mandel was part of two title-winning freestyle relay teams as Kenyon finished second overall. She reached the finals of all seven events she entered at the NCAA tournament.
Incredibly, Orbach-Mandel became an All-American in 25 of her 28 NCAA events over four NCAA tournaments at Kenyon. (That means she finished in the top eight.) Better, she graduated last May with an economics degree and has been hired by the NCAA to work as an intern in the organization’s Indianapolis office in administrative services.
My two cents: PGA has taken away some of the suspense of Match Play
In the eight-year run of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship at Dove Mountain, the PGA Tour often talked about tweaking the format to eliminate the one-and-done, sudden-death nature of the event.
It was never good to see Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson leave town after one match. CBS and NBC didn’t like it, but it was singularly captivating, the allure of the event.
Now in its third year in Austin, Texas, as the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, there is no more early round sudden death. All 64 golfers are guaranteed three days before sudden-death match play begins in a Saturday “Sweet 16.”
Last week, however, the corporate sponsors at Dell proposed another format change, asking the PGA Tour to eliminate half the field, 32 players, in pool play over three days, and then put the remaining field in a two-day, 32-man stroke-play tournament.
Just like any other tournament.
The PGA Tour declined, which is a good thing. The suspense of the match-play tournament is what makes it work.