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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Commentary: Arizona weathers ‘Jacks’ spirit

The Arizona basketball team faced a scrappy NAU Lumberjacks squad, well-traveled both in its experience and after a day-long journey from Flagstaff.

With rain and gloominess in the night air, symbolism was easy to find.

There was the McKale Center acting as the Metrodome Thursday night, its roof seemingly not keeping the storm outside from raining down on the Wildcats chance for redemption coming off an embarrassing loss to BYU.

The storm had already forced the start of the game to be pushed back an hour as the Lumberjack’s charter flight couldn’t land in snowy Flagstaff or even Deer Valley, Ariz. And the day might have prevented Arizona from regaining stability after two poor showings in previous matches.

Then there was the Arizona team itself, which trailed its Big Sky opponent for the majority of the contest before pulling out a 63-58 win.

Despite the notion that the game should be another easy win in Arizona’s back pocket, head coach Sean Miller was satisfied to send NAU back to Flagstaff with a five-point loss.

“”Our guys are really going through a lot,”” Miller said of his team, citing finals week and the previous schellacking his team took from BYU. “”This was a time we were very vulnerable.””

And in the first half, it looked like the Wildcats were playing against BYU and guard Jimmer Fredette for the second game in a row. Rather, it was the Lumberjacks and guard Cameron Jones playing as a mirage of Fredette.

Apparently, the Lumberjacks’ weather-induced bus ride to Sky Harbor International Airport and flight to Tucson from there — let alone the class finals that forced NAU to travel on game day — wasn’t enough to suck the energy from their team.

“”What I said to the guys was, ‘You know back when you were playing youth ball and you had a 1 o’clock game and your mom didn’t get you there until 10 minutes ’til?” NAU head coach Mike Adras said. “”That’s how today’s game was.””

The Wildcats fell behind 20-8 behind 12 points by Jones, who added insult to injury by belting out screams loud enough for the 13,557 dreary Wildcat fans to hear.

A fan behind media row irately requested that NAU “”Go back to the Big Sky,”” referring to NAU’s conference. But Jones’ 27 points and the Lumberjacks refused to do so, at least not until the final buzzer rang.

It was Jones drilling a 3-pointer with just more than a minute to play in the first half that bumped the lead to 29-21 after Arizona had made a comeback push behind two 3-pointers from reserve forward Kevin Parrom.

Parrom started the second half for sophomore Solomon Hill as UA head coach Sean Miller tried to spark a team lacking confidence in its shooting.

“”I thought it was our game the whole time,”” said NAU’s Jones, who said he always likes to stick it to Pacific 10 Conference teams because they didn’t believe in him enough to offer him a scholarship.

Meanwhile, the Wildcats were lacking a swagger, the killer instinct they employed during a promising first eight games. But Thursday, they found it enough to overcome a poor first half on both ends of the floor.

Guard Brendon Lavender hit two consecutive 3s of his own and sealed the game with a steal and dunk with 21 seconds left.

But a signature play came when the Wildcats had finally regained the lead with 8:29 remaining in the game, as sophomore Derrick Williams swished a 3-pointer and saluted the crowd

It was a reminder that Thursday just wasn’t NAU’s day.

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