Arizona Stays Alive In The Disaster That Is the Pac-12 Basketball Conference

We often attend the Pac-12 men's basketball tournament in Los Angeles. It's a few days in downtown LA, where we always visit the old city library (beautiful), walk everywhere (safer than you think), stay on the cheap (always good as long as the bedbugs don't bite), and watch a whole lot of hoop.

Good times.

Not this year.

The league is down, way down, and today's second-round games (we watched quite a bit of tube, in the interest, of course, of blogdom!) were absolutely brutal.

We saw the 9th-seeded Oregon State Beavers beat top-seeded Washington by two points after both teams missed free throw after free throw down the stretch. It was on the edge of bizarre.

Then Arizona played UCLA. The winner would keep its NCAA chances alive--the loser would be toast.

UCLA was the pre-season pick for the conference championship, but the Bruins didn't come close. Their big man, Joshua Smith, who has superior athletic skills, was grossly overweight coming into the season and he stayed that way.

Their other big man, Reeves Nelson, a beast on the boards, got kicked off the team, and wound up in Lithuania or some such place.

Head coach Ben Howland, who once ran the Northern Arizona program, seems to be lost at sea after a run of two Final Fours in a row.

Coming off last Sunday's stunning loss to ASU, the Wildcats were in desperation mode. 

Win, or enter the Land of the NIT, an afterthought tournament of teams not quite good enough to make it to the Dance.

The game itself was memorable for two things: Arizona's clutch foul shooting (31 of 36), but more so for the three incredible shot blocks by its freshman point guard Nick Johnson (two in one critical sequence) of players several inches taller than him.

Johnson played at Gilbert Highland High until his junior year, when he transferred to a basketball factor (otherwise known as a school) in Vegas. He hit but one basket in 31 minutes of action, but those blocks seriously were ESPN Top Ten--worthy.

The Cats ended up winning 66-58, despite converting only 15 field goals in the entire game. 

Arizona plays Oregon State tomorrow night, a much more favorable match-up than against Washington, which beat the Cats twice in the regular season.

Perhaps Arizona's seniors Kyle Fogg, Solomon Hill, and Brendon Lavender can will their team to one more win, and a spot in the tournament finals on Saturday afternoon. 

It would be sweet to go up against the Cal Bears again in a game for the marbles and a berth in the NCAA's. 

We're not counting on it. But that's why they play the game, right?

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin