Friday, March 27, 2009 at 12:36 p.m.
We never thought we'd be writing the following words: The Arizona Wildcats men's basketball team will take the floor against the top-ranked Louisville Wildcats in Sweet 16 action late this afternoon. Channel 5 will air the game in the Valley at 4 p.m.
The 12th-seeded Wildcats--by far the lowest-ranked team remaining in the 64-team NCAA tournament--barely squeaked into the tournament after an up-and-down season with long winning streaks and a dismal end to the regular season.
However, to continue in this top-dog tourney, the Cats may need more than a superstar effort Chase Budinger, the fellow in the photo wearing the number 34.
We're sure the Cats would be happy to stick the guy next to Chase, old number 33 (it's Larry Bird, duh....) in the lineup right now. Yeah, Bird is 50-something and weighs a bit more than back in his heyday, but no matter.
Alas, Larry ran out of college eligibility exactly three decades ago.
We are happy for our friend, interim Arizona head coach Russ Pennell, who improbably has found himself in the national spotlight after an unorthodox and sometimes bizarre run from ASU radio color commentator to an assistant coach at UA to his last-minute appointment as replacement for the legendary Lute Olson.
It's all likely to end today for Pennell and Arizona--Louisville is very, very good, and go a legitimate ten or eleven players deep.
That compares with the Wildcats' three stars--Budinger, Jordan Hill and Nic Wise--and a prayer. But who knows? Maybe the magical March run will continue into the Elite Eight.
Whatever happens, Arizona's adventure into places where few thought it could or would go has provided beleaguered Wildcats fans (hey, ASU beat the Cats three times this season!) with some unexpected smiles and even half-hearted bragging rights in these parts.