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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Top 10 Sports stories of the year

    Arizona forward Chase Budinger watches time wind down in the Wildcats 92-64 loss to North Carolina Jan. 27 in McKale Center, the most lopsided loss ever at home for Arizona under head coach Lute Olson.
    Arizona forward Chase Budinger watches time wind down in the Wildcats’ 92-64 loss to North Carolina Jan. 27 in McKale Center, the most lopsided loss ever at home for Arizona under head coach Lute Olson.

    No. 1 – Football’s
    Homecoming win over Cal

    The lasting image of the defining moment of the 2006-07 Wildcat athletic year is Antoine Cason, arms raised to the sky and the ball in his left hand, as he trots into the end zone to give Arizona a 24-17 lead with just over 12 minutes to play in the fourth quarter on Homecoming.

    The Wildcats, of course, had dismantled then-No. 7 UCLA just 371 days earlier, 52-14 – also on Homecoming.

    So when No. 8 Cal came rolling into Tucson, there was a buzz around campus.

    But the Golden Bears’ DeSean Jackson’s dazzling 95-yard punt return shattered that buzz early and gave Cal a quick 7-0 lead less than four minutes after the opening whistle.

    The Bears held a 17-3 lead heading into the half and it appeared whatever Homecoming magic the Wildcats had left in the tank from the season before was all but used up.

    Ten minutes after the start of the second half, UA running back Chris Henry scored the first of his two second-half touchdowns, adding the second one 49 seconds into the fourth quarter as Arizona knotted the score at 17.

    On Cal’s ensuing drive, Cason stepped in front of Nate Longshore’s pass and took it back 39 yards the other way to give the Wildcats their first lead of the night and send Arizona Stadium into a panic.

    Jackson single-handedly set the Bears up at Arizona’s 45 with a kick return and reception on the next possession. Longshore then hit a wide-open Lavell Hawkins, who was streaking towards the end zone, but Hawkins tripped himself and fell at the 1-yard line. Arizona’s defense held the Bears to a field goal, cutting the score to 24-20.

    And though Jackson almost broke the collective Wildcat hearts again – his 63-yard scoring reception late in the fourth was nullified when it was ruled he stepped out of bounds – the Wildcats held on for the upset.

    The fans took to the field en masse, and it was Home Sweet Homecoming … again.

    No. 2 – Softball wins 2006 Women’s College World Series

    The UA softball team brought home lucky No. 7 last June, winning the school’s seventh softball championship and first for any UA team since the Jennie Finch-led 2001 title.

    This time Alicia Hollowell played the lead role, adding a national championship to her UA career strikeout record and cementing her name as one of the greats in Arizona softball history. Hollowell went 5-1 with a 0.42 ERA and a WCWS-record 64 strikeouts on the way to the title.

    The Wildcats won 20 of their last 22 games, including a sweep of Northwestern in the championship series. Center fielder Caitlin Lowe also set the WCWS record for runs scored with eight, none more important than the go-ahead run scored against Texas ace Cat Osterman in the second round to propel Arizona to the championship.

    No. 3 – Men’s hoops loses by 28 to UNC

    From 1987-92, Arizona won 71 consecutive home games. Even on rare occasions when the Wildcats did lose in the Lute Olson era, they never lost by more than 12, and that was in the opening months of Olson’s time on the job.

    Then came Jan. 27, an afternoon no Wildcat fan will soon forget. Students camped out all night in anticipation of a nationally televised showdown between Arizona and North Carolina, but only the Tar Heels showed up.

    The game will be remembered for a number of things statistically: Olson’s worst home loss (92-64), Olson’s second-worst loss overall and a tie of the worst home loss ever. But most of all, fans will remember it as an afternoon when Arizona could not hang with an elite team.

    No. 4 – Football and hoops coaching changes

    The last few years the Arizona men’s basketball team and football team have had polar opposite identities, with hoops being a strong offensive team that struggles on the defensive end, while football has fielded a quality defense but an offense that needs a map to find the end zone.

    Enter new basketball assistant coach Kevin O’Neill and football offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes as the intended saviors of their programs. O’Neill brings plenty of college head coaching experience and a year leading the Toronto Raptors, as well as a reputation as a top recruiter. But you’d be kidding yourself if you didn’t think the No. 1 reason O’Neill is in town at the expense of Olson’s 27-year assistant Jim Rosborough is his prowess as a defensive coach.

    Dykes, on the other hand, brings a spread offense that could attempt up to 50 passes per game to make the Wildcats look more like high-flying Texas Tech, where Dykes coached last season.

    If these men do their jobs, hoops could have the defense to make a deep NCAA Tournament run, and football could have the offensive firepower to make its first bowl game since 1998.

    No. 5 – Men’s hoops loses in the 1st round for the 2nd time in 4 years

    When men’s basketball lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament three times in four years in the early 1990s, they were all major upsets.

    Now as the Wildcats have failed to reach the tournament’s second weekend three times in four years, twice falling in the first round, including this year’s loss to Purdue, it’s a different story. Outside of the Elite Eight run two years ago, the Wildcats have played through mediocre regular seasons to end up in the 8-9 seed game.

    This year that meant an early ousting by a Purdue squad that made up for its talent disadvantage by clearly outhustling Arizona. Although the year was not characterized by chemistry issues like last season’s debacle, the Wildcats stumbled to an 8-10 record after a hot 12-1 start that had them ranked No. 7 nationally.

    No. 6 – Baseball’s 16-game winning streak

    It started off innocently enough on a Sunday in paradise.

    Coming off a 4-0 shutout by Hawaii over spring break, Arizona eeked out a 3-1 win over the Warriors in the rubber match of the series .

    The Wildcats followed that up with a 19-3 win over Hawaii-Hilo before the final game of their trip was rained out, and they returned home on a modest two-game winning streak.

    After series wins over Morehead State and Northern Colorado, that two-game streak turned into a seven-game streak with a matchup with in-state rival ASU looming.

    The Sun Devils had beaten Arizona 22-8 earlier in the season, but the Wildcats get their revenge, 6-5, just before a three-game sweep of defending national champion Oregon State.

    Arizona then won its 12th in a row in dramatic fashion, a 1-0 walk-off win over California, before taking the final two games of the series to extend the streak to 14, the longest active in the nation at that time.

    The Wildcats continued their winning ways with 8-1 and 15-1 wins over Stanford in mid-April, but the offense slipped up in the final game of the series, and the Cardinal ended the streak at 16, 6-3, on April 15.

    No. 7 – Bonvicini wins her 600th game

    With 597 wins after a 38-point win on Dec. 12, UA women’s basketball head coach Joan Bonvicini may have thought it was possible for victory No. 600 to come around the start of the new year.

    But like seemingly everything else for the women’s basketball team the past two seasons, things did not go according to plan. Instead, her squad made her sweat it out for 58 days, going just 2-12 in that span.

    Finally, on Feb. 8 against Oregon State, Bonvicini, the winningest coach in program history by a large margin, became the 15th NCAA Division I women’s coach to reach this milestone.

    No. 8 – Men’s hoops, football pull off upsets at Oregon

    Men’s basketball and football picked a strange place for arguably their biggest victories of the season: road wins at raucous Oregon.

    The football team became bowl-eligible for the first time since 1998 with a 37-10 thrashing of the Ducks at Autzen Stadium after a career day by running back Chris Henry. The win gave Arizona its first three-game winning streak since the start of the 2001 season and marked the biggest margin of victory on the road since 1993. It was also the team’s first win at Oregon since 1986.

    For men’s basketball, the victory was alarming in that Arizona made clutch plays down the stretch to win the type of game it lost all season, taking a three-point victory after winning no game to that point by less than six. The Wildcats were led by Chase Budinger’s 30-point effort, and Ivan Radenovic hit the game-winner.

    No. 9 – Chris Henry drafted in second round

    Chris Henry did what?

    That was the consensus after the running back bolted for the NFL after just one outstanding game in his three-year career as a Wildcat (191 yards and three touchdowns at Oregon in November). Many questioned his timing, considering that Arizona would be installing a pass-happy offensive system that would play to his pass-catching strength.

    Then, his stock just wouldn’t stop rising.

    Henry, arguably the surprise prospect of the draft’s early workout stages, blew scouts away during the NFL Scouting Combine by running a 4.40 40-yard dash, tied for first among prospective running backs with Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson, who became the No. 7 overall pick.

    But when the NFL Draft rolled around a few weeks ago, few had him going before the third round, even with his impressive workout. Nfldraftscout.com had him going No. 97 overall to San Francisco.

    Henry ended up going to the Titans with the 18th pick in the second round, No. 50 overall, proving his critics wrong.

    No. 10 – Lowe steals her way into record books

    Whenever UA center fielder Caitlin Lowe singles, it’s oftentimes more like a double with her speed to seemingly steal bases at will.

    In a year in which she has stolen a conference-leading 44 bases in 44 attempts, Lowe etched her name into the record books April 27 by stealing her 149th career base, passing Alison McCutcheon in Arizona annals. Lowe, the definition of an Arizona leadoff hitter over her career, has hit over .400 each of four years, supplying herself with a number of opportunities to steal bases.

    – compiled by assistant sports editors Ryan Casey and Michael Schwartz

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