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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Cream of the crop: Top 5 teams of the year

    1. Football ended 10 years of frustration

    Arizona beat ASU 31-21 in the final game of the regular season to push its record to 7-5 overall and 5-4 in the Pacific 10 Conference. The win enabled the Wildcats to get their ‘bowl’ing shoes for the first time since the 1998 season as they earned a trip to the Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl against Mountain West Conference champion and then-No. 17 BYU – a team that drubbed Arizona in the 2007 season opener in Provo, Utah. But the ’08 team proved how much different, and better, it was than previous UA squads have been.

    The Wildcats made big plays when they needed to and held on to a 31-21 win against the Cougars to send a group of seniors out on top, after they started their careers at the bottom rung of the Pac-10.

    “”What Mike (Stoops) and this staff and what this team has done, everybody knows what they’re doing, and anybody who doesn’t think this program is heading in the right direction doesn’t understand the game of college football,”” Arizona Athletics Director Jim Livengood said after the win in Las Vegas. “”It’s not about vindication. It’s not about anything other than we are where we are right now and it’s pretty doggone special and it’s going to get better.””

    – Brian Kimball

    2. Men’s hoops made improbable Sweet 16 run

    Another preseason of turmoil drastically lowered the expectations for the 2008-09 Arizona men’s basketball season. After Hall-of-Famer Lute Olson announced his sudden retirement, and standout freshman Jeff Withey transferred, the Wildcats just hoped to avoid a complete disaster of a season.

    The roller coaster once again brought the ‘Cats to highs – beating then-No. 4 Gonzaga and then-No. 11 UCLA – and lows – being swept by ASU and the gut-wrenching loss to the UAB. But Arizona’s NCAA

    Tournament resume not only survived the bubble, it also set the No. 12-seeded Wildcats up with two tournament wins and their first Sweet 16 appearance since 2005.

    Against all odds and expectations, Arizona made the most of its opportunity and heavily relied on its Big Three – juniors Nic Wise, Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill – and turned the season into a success. After two previous seasons of underachieving, the Wildcats rallied behind interim head coach Russ Pennell, who instilled positive chemistry and motivation through every extreme of the ride.

    Arizona, which snuck into the tournament as the school’s lowest seed in decades, continued Tucson’s most coveted streak of consecutive tournament appearances as the program reached its 25th straight Big Dance.

    – Bryan Roy

    3. Swim and dive teams remained among elite

    Following dual national championships for the Arizona men’s and women’s swim and dive teams was never going to be easy, as the Wildcats found out.

    The women finished in third place with an awfully close 22.5-point loss to first place California. Then, the men’s team finished a disappointing sixth place in their NCAA meet.

    “”If I said I wasn’t disappointed and I was happy with the way it turned out, that would be a lie,”” senior Taylor Baughman said at the end of the season. “”I honestly feel like we fell short of our goal.””

    But in perhaps the two fastest NCAA meets UA head coach Frank Busch said he has seen throughout his tenure at Arizona, his team showed they’re standing tall in the world of collegiate swimming’s top programs.

    The women set multiple school and American records, including a new 200-yard freestyle relay time of 1:26.20. Junior Jean Basson was the individual champion in the men’s 500y freestyle, and helped his team in their highlight of the year, a dual-meet victory over then-No. 1 ranked Texas.

    – Kevin Zimmerman

    4. Softball continued WCWS streak

    With Larry Ray serving as interim head coach, the 2008 Arizona softball team returned to Oklahoma City, Okla. for the program’s 21st appearance at the Women’s College World Series. The Wildcats blasted 94 home runs and had two All-Americans in Laine Roth and Brittany Lastrapes. However, they were eliminated in their second game at the WCWS.

    This season, Arizona finished in third place in the highly competitive Pacific 10 Conference. The Wildcats have tied the NCAA record for home runs in a single season as they bashed 126 long balls, a record held by the 2001 Wildcat team. The 2009 Arizona team will most likely break the all-time record with postseason games still on deck for the squad.

    The Wildcats finished the regular season with a single-series season sweep over Oregon as they hope to find their way back to Oklahoma. They await the announcing site and opponent for their Regional competition on May 10.

    – Nicole Dimtsios

    5. Baseball fell one game shy of CWS

    The 2008 Arizona baseball team began the year as the nation’s No. 1 ranked team. Players and coaches alike were describing the abundance of talent on the squad as “”a great opportunity for a big year.””

    Anchored by a potent offense and strong bullpen, Arizona overcame a series of ups and downs to finish the season with 40 wins for the second-straight year.

    Eventually, the Wildcats earned themselves a Super Regional appearance in Coral Gables, Fla. against No. 1 seeded Miami.

    Arizona had gone from the favorites to underdogs but still managed to take the first game of a three-game series from the Hurricanes on a three-run homer off the bat of right fielder Jon Gaston in an 11 inning affair.

    But inconsistent pitching and a lack of timely hitting cost the

    Wildcats in the series’ final two games as a potential dream season was put to rest one win shy of reaching the College World Series.

    “”We gave it our all, all three games,”” left fielder Rafael

    Valenzuela said following the season-ending loss. “”We just came up short.

    “”I don’t think any of us could say this was a disappointing season. We fought to the end.””

    After the season, head coach Andy Lopez saw nine of his 11 drafted players sign with professional teams. The impact of the losses was immediately evident in 2009 as Arizona struggled, especially on the pitcher’s mound. The team still has a small chance of reaching the postseason this year, but will need to win the majority of their remaining conference games, starting with Washington this weekend.

    – Bobby Stover

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