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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


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    ASU fans storm the court after a 70-68 Sun Devil win against Arizona on Feb. 22 at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe. ASU beat the Wildcats three times during the 2008-09 season.
    ASU fans storm the court after a 70-68 Sun Devil win against Arizona on Feb. 22 at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe. ASU beat the Wildcats three times during the 2008-09 season.

    1. The Lute Olson saga

    Lute Olson addressed the media on Oct. 21 seeming mentally upbeat but physically drained. Two days afterward, he announced that he would permanently retire. Not until Oct. 28 did his doctor reveal that Olson had suffered from the effects of a stroke within the past year and that it would be unhealthy to return.

    Dr. Steven D. Knope said a blood clot likely traveled from Olson’s heart to his brain and caused a year’s worth of severe depression, unusual behavior and decision making.

    “”I think the circumstances here will clarify and explain some uncharacteristic behavior over the past several months,”” Knope said. “”For those of you who know Lute well, you probably said, ‘This doesn’t seem like the same Lute we know and love’ on a couple of occasions.””

    Olson began the season in renewed spirits but was soon experiencing depression and anxiety that forced the 74-year-old into a leave of absence during the 07-08 season.

    “”I became aware that Lute was having difficulty with his coaching responsibilities,”” Knope said. “”… When people don’t respond to medications and they don’t respond to standard therapy and there are clues that something else is going on, then we need to do brain studies to make sure there is not an organic cause of the problem.””

    – Bryan Roy

    2. Vindication in Vegas

    As confetti drifted down over the Arizona players following a 31-21 win against then-No. 17 BYU in the Pioneer Las Vegas Bowl, no Wildcats looked happier than the seniors.

    For some, including fifth-year senior Jason Bondzio, the bowl game victory was a perfect ending for careers that started off on a sour note.

    “”It’s tremendous, especially winning that last ASU game, winning this game, I couldn’t ask for more from my teammates,”” Bondzio said. “”The fifth-year guys, we’ve seen every single way to lose a game. I figure that might help a little bit with the veteran leadership, but I’m so proud of my team.””

    Linebacker Ronnie Palmer, another fifth-year senior, was more proud of the way his teammates played in the game because of how much bad publicity the Pacific 10 Conference was receiving for poor play against Mountain West Conference teams.

    “”There was a lot of talk that was down on the Pac-10 this year and the guys, we wanted it so bad,”” Palmer said. “”We did it for the seniors and for the long struggle that we’ve been through the last four or five years, and it finally paid off.””

    It paid off in record fashion for a pair of Arizona’s most beloved players. Senior quarterback Willie Tuitama went 24-of-35 for 325 yards and three total touchdowns and was named the MVP of the game. Tuitama helped fellow senior Mike Thomas become the Pac-10’s all-time leader in career receptions within the final minute of the game.

    “”I was getting a little worried at first. We were in the victory (formation) but we got out of it and they got it to me and I’m thankful for it,”” Thomas said. “”I couldn’t ask for too much more.””

    – Brian Kimball

    3. NCAA Tournament drama

    The first round of the Pac-10 Conference Tournament looked to be a de facto do-or-die game against ASU. A win would solidify the Wildcats’ NCAA Tournament chances – the program’s 25th straight appearance – but a loss would likely send Arizona to the NIT.

    The feeling wasn’t good for the Wildcats, especially as upsets in other conference tournaments took away at-large bid spots from the squad.

    “”It’s a nail-biter,”” UA forward Fendi Onobun said after losing to ASU for the third time in the 2008-09 season.

    However, the Wildcats still got a berth to the Big Dance. Analysts thought Arizona received a bid based on its brand name or reputation, but those assertions quickly disappeared as the Wildcats earned their first Sweet 16 since 2005.

    “”This team has come so far. So many ups and downs – it’s just a great feeling right now,”” UA wing Zane Johnson said. “” … All the critics, they can just look at that now and soak it in.””

    – Bryan Roy

    4. The start of the Miller era

    He wasn’t UA athletic director Jim Livengood’s first choice, but Sean Miller comfortably settled into his new job as the head coach of the Arizona men’s

    basketball team. The former Xavier coach, who became Arizona’s fourth head coach in four seasons, inked three top-100 recruits in his first month on the job.

    He must also work on re-recruiting current players. Miller couldn’t keep wing Zane Johnson from transferring and has the task of trying to convince Nic Wise to return for his senior season.

    In the meantime, Livengood and the Tucson community are trying their best to make their $2 million-per-year coach as comfortable as possible – even though he isn’t planning on purchasing a home until June.

    – Lance Madden

    5. Football drops ASU

    After 10 years of frustration and three straight losses to ASU, the Arizona football program would no longer be denied victory.

    The Wildcats overcame a slow start and a 10-7 halftime deficit, erupting in the third quarter en route to a 31-10 victory against ASU at Arizona Stadium in the season’s final regular season game.

    “”It’s huge. It’s a big win for the program and a big win for the seniors,”” UA wide receiver Delashaun Dean said after the win against the Sun Devils. “”We knew we didn’t want to send the seniors out without beating ASU. We knew what we had to do and we took care of business.””

    For the second time during UA head coach Mike Stoops’ tenure, the Wildcats knocked off the Sun Devils, but this win carries much more significance for the program. The victory gave the squad a 7-5 record overall and a 5-4 mark in the Pac-10.

    “”We felt like we were in control, but the scoreboard didn’t say it (at halftime),”” UA defensive coordinator Mark Stoops said. “”So it was good to be in a tough spot and again show our character and toughness of this team, to go in a tough spot at halftime and say, ‘Hey, we don’t need to do anything special. We just need to go out in the second half and execute our defense and our offense.'””

    – Brian Kimball

    6. Houston, we have a comeback

    With less than a minute remaining in overtime, the UA men’s basketball team was losing by 10 points to Houston. But with tactical fouling down the stretch and a clutch Nic Wise 3-pointer with 10 seconds left, the Wildcats were able to tie the game and send it to overtime, eventually beating the Cougars 96-90.

    Wise, Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill combined for 68 points. The team’s performance was the starting point for a seven-game win streak for the Wildcats. The streak helped pull Arizona out of a rough 11-8 patch to start the season, and sparked the squad to finish the season as Sweet 16 competitors.

    – Lance Madden

    7. Softball sweeps past ASU

    For the first time since 2005, the Arizona Wildcats swept the single season series against rival ASU. After a hard-fought win in Tucson, rain postponed the second game of the series from April 11 at Hillenbrand Stadium to a doubleheader on April 29 in Tempe.

    Despite the change in home-field advantage, the Wildcats managed to win the continuation of the delayed game off of a solo shot by designated player Victoria Kemp.

    The second game was a slugfest between the two teams, with five home runs hit in the game. Arizona took an early 5-0 lead, but the Sun Devils battled back to tie the game in the third inning. The Wildcats’ bats came alive again, giving them the 10-6 win and the sweep against the defending national champions.

    “”The first game (of the doubleheader) was a big one because it happened so quick,”” head coach Mike Candrea said. “”It definitely gave us a lot of momentum going (into the second game).””

    – Nicole Dimtsios

    8. Sun Devils dominate UA on the hardwood

    In Lute Olson’s tenure as the Wildcats’ head coach, Arizona lost just one of 25 games against ASU. Since he stopped coaching, the Sun Devils have gone 5-0 against the Wildcats, including a 3-0 season sweep this past season.

    In five career games against Arizona, ASU guard James Harden never lost to the Wildcats.

    “”For me it feels great, never losing to U of A in my career so far,”” Harden said after ASU beat Arizona 68-56 in the

    Pacific 10 Conference Tournament. “”They had the upside for most of the years so it just feels great and it is special to be a part of that. They are a great team and a powerhouse and we are working to make this team a powerhouse as well.””

    – Lance Madden

    9. Candrea’s comeback

    Arizona softball head coach Mike Candrea has taken two leaves of absences – both to act as head coach of the USA Olympic softball team. Most recently, after taking off a year during the 2008 season to lead his squad to a silver medal in Beijing, Candrea returned to the desert to once again take back his position at the helm of the Wildcats’ program.

    “”It’s definitely helpful that he’s here. It’s a different presence,”” said sophomore pitcher Lindsey Sisk. “”I can see a difference in this team ð- more confident, ready to go out there.””

    With Candrea back at the head coaching position, the Wildcats continued to dominate at Hillenbrand Stadium as they posted a 23-3 record at home. The unquestionable leadership that Candrea brings to the team is a result of a longstanding tradition of excellence at Arizona.

    “”He told us that he wants us to be in the last game of the college season,”” said sophomore outfielder Brittany Lastrapes.

    – Nicole Dimtsios

    10. Soccer beats ASU for first time

    For 13 years the Arizona soccer team experienced nothing but turmoil against its rivals to the north. The closest the Wildcats came was a 1-1 tie in double overtime in a game played in Tucson back in 2003.

    But on Oct. 10, Arizona refused to suffer another trip to Tempe without a win. Forward Karina Camacho scored the game-winning goal in overtime to wipe out years of poor memories against the Sun Devils.

    “”Coming to Arizona, we all knew we hadn’t beaten (ASU) before so we’ve always (been) gunning for them,”” midfielder Alex Davis said after the 2-1 overtime win. “”… It is a great feeling to finally beat them.””

    Arizona found themselves in a 1-0 hole after one half of play. But in the second half the Wildcats received a jolt from forward London King in the 80th minute as she took a crossing pass from midfielder Jacqueline Broussard and snuck the ball passed Sun Devil keeper Briana Silvestri to tie the game.

    In overtime, forward Renae Cuellar shot a ball off the right post that ricocheted straight to Camacho. The sophomore drilled in the winning goal as the Wildcats’ bench erupted onto ASU’s home field where a rendition of “”Bear Down Arizona”” ensued.

    “”I was really proud of the girls just because everyone stuck it out and everyone started playing really well,”” Davis said. “”We knew we weren’t going to lose that game.””

    – Bobby Stover

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