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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Is Arizona still an elite team?

    UA senior forward Ivan Radenovic tries to hold onto the ball while driving against North Carolina freshman forward Deon Thompson, right, in Arizonas 92-64 loss to UNC in McKale Center Saturday. The Wildcats had trouble holding onto the ball all afternoon, turning the ball over 20 times.
    UA senior forward Ivan Radenovic tries to hold onto the ball while driving against North Carolina freshman forward Deon Thompson, right, in Arizona’s 92-64 loss to UNC in McKale Center Saturday. The Wildcats had trouble holding onto the ball all afternoon, turning the ball over 20 times.

    The Arizona men’s basketball team has been setting a number of new records under head coach Lute Olson the past few weeks. And none of them are good ones.

    Take Saturday’s 28-point walloping at the hands of No. 4 North Carolina, a margin which Olson said bothered him a lot:

    – It not only was the UA head coach’s worst loss in 24 years in McKale Center, it also more than doubled the previous high losing margin, 12 points to Tennessee during Olson’s first months on the job in December 1983.

    – It was Arizona’s second-worst loss under Olson in any setting, bested only by a 30-point beat-down by Oregon in Eugene, Ore., in 2001.

    – It tied Arizona’s worst loss ever in McKale Center, when a 9-18 squad lost 92-64 to Oregon State during the 1981-82 season.

    There’s still a good portion of the season left to turn things around, but these past few weeks of futility, especially Saturday’s performance ð- marked by 20 turnovers, 1-of-23 3-point shooting and season-low 33.9 percent field-goal shooting – beg the question: Is Arizona still an elite team or the middle-of-the-Pac team that the Pacific 10 Conference standings say the Wildcats are?

    Well, the No. 17 Wildcats still have what has to be considered one of the nation’s top starting fives, the same starting five that as recently as Jan. 4 looked like it was headed to the Final Four during a 12-game winning streak.

    But Arizona has lost five out of seven games in a season for the first time since Olson’s rookie season in Tucson all the way back in 1983-84, which was also the last time the Wildcats missed the NCAA Tournament altogether.

    Last week, the talk of the town was Arizona’s three-game losing streak, its second since ’83-84. The first streak happened last season and included a similar stretch with losses at North Carolina, USC and UCLA, leading to a run of four losses in six games, which hadn’t happened since Olson’s second season.

    With the national attention this game received – getting featured on the front page of ESPN.com and the “”Breaking News”” section in the bottom-right-hand corner of ESPNNEWS hours after it wasn’t really breaking news anymore – it wouldn’t be a surprise for the Wildcats to now fall out of the national rankings, just like the program did last season for the first time in 312 weeks.

    Saturday was supposed to be a big day for the Wildcats, or so many fans thought, judging from the long line of Zona Zoo members outside McKale during the wee hours of the night.

    Arizona was playing its biggest home game in years in a loud, sold-out arena on national television in what was supposed to be the game that ended Arizona’s recent rough patch and elevated the Wildcats back into the discussion of the country’s top-10 teams.

    With three of North Carolina’s nine best players out, including second-leading scorer Brandan Wright, the buzz before the game surrounded whether the Wildcats stood a decent chance to pull the upset without having to contend with both of the Tar Heels’ dominant low post players .

    But that didn’t happen.

    “”I don’t know that North Carolina could have played any better, and I don’t know that we could have played any worse,”” Olson said. “”That’s a shame because the crowd was great, the enthusiasm was great, and for us to come out and play to where we couldn’t even make it a contest is very disappointing.””

    Even after North Carolina’s first bucket, a 3-pointer on their first possession, the majority of the fans stayed standing, which never happens in McKale except for the biggest of games.

    But what followed epitomized the rest of the game for the Wildcats: four turnovers in five possessions, all of which were unforced errors.

    Trailing 23-21, the Wildcats scored only two points in the next 9:09, while Carolina went on a 20-2 run to essentially end the game.

    Now comes the important question: Does Arizona deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as the Carolinas of the world, even if it didn’t belong on the same court Saturday?

    Every one of Arizona’s four conference losses was a winnable game, so if Arizona can win two more during the second half of conference play than it did during the first nine games and finish a respectable 12-6 in the Pac-10, that would go a long way toward shrugging off this midseason slump.

    “”North Carolina’s not in our conference,”” said junior guard Jawann McClellan. “”We’re not going to face a better team like that inconference, I don’t think. We have to know that four games in conference (play) we gave away, and we can’t let that happen starting the second half of conference (play). We’ve got to just get ready for Washington State (Thursday).””

    After the game Olson told his squad to forget about North Carolina and move on.

    “”I basically told the guys that this (game) was a nightmare and that we are not even going to look at the tapes,”” he said. “”We are just going to get focused on the Pac-10. We played everyone (in the Pac-10), and there is no one we feel that we can’t beat, so we just need to take care of business in the conference.””

    The jury remains out on if Arizona has slipped a notch, but much will be determined by how the Wildcats play down the stretch.

    “”A lot of people still think we can win it all,”” McClellan said. “”We just have to play defense.””

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