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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Mission underachieved

    Arizonas Ivan Radenovic covers his face as time winds down on the Wildcats season in their 72-63 loss to Purdue in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Radenovic and the Wildcats never found their stride in an up-and-down season that started with a 12-game winning streak and ended with an early exit from postseason play.
    Arizona’s Ivan Radenovic covers his face as time winds down on the Wildcats’ season in their 72-63 loss to Purdue in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Radenovic and the Wildcats never found their stride in an up-and-down season that started with a 12-game winning streak and ended with an early exit from postseason play.

    NEW ORLEANS – Disappointing, frustrating, substandard.

    That was the men’s basketball season in a nutshell.

    Arizona searched all season for answers but found only questions.

    While most schools would be more than content with another 20-win season and a trip to the NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats’ year, which ended Friday with a 72-63 loss to Purdue, drew the aforementioned adjectives.

    “”You look at the talent in this room and it’s unbelievable – we never once lived up to our expectations,”” forward Bret Brielmaier said. “”We always talk about, ‘Oh, we’re gonna finally do it, finally do it,’ but we never did – we never had that defining moment.””

    After 12 consecutive wins early in the season, what went wrong?

    Arizona’s sweltering shooting hid its turnover problems. It had 18 miscues against Northern Arizona and New Mexico State and 20 against Houston, but over the first 13 games, the Wildcats shot 53 percent.

    For much of the season, Arizona won the rebounding battle – the Wildcats averaged nearly five more per game than their opponents – yet a lack of intensity and the lack of grit to scrap for loose balls persisted.

    “”We have a lot of talent on paper, but I don’t think we have a lot of guys in there to get their nose in there and get bloody,”” guard Jawann McClellan said. “”I hate to say that – I love these guys to death – but it’s true. It starts being true when everybody around the country starts noticing it. It’s been said since day one, when we lost to Virginia, that we were soft.””

    The passion, swagger and toughness left the Wildcats in the middle of the season, and they never got it back, said forward Chase Budinger. The answer was not in the physical problems, but in the vanishing mental toughness.

    Point guard Mustafa Shakur couldn’t have symbolized the decline any better.

    The top high school point guard in the country when he arrived his freshman season, Shakur began his senior year reaping UA head coach Lute Olson’s verbal accolades.

    Numerous times Olson called him one of the best point guards in the country, while Shakur averaged 14.6 points in the first 17 games and had only two games with five turnovers.

    In the next 14 games, his points per game average dropped below 12, and he had five games with five or more turnovers, including two with eight.

    “”That’s why everything we’ve said to him has been positive because Mustafa is so conscientious that no one is going to worry about that more than he is,”” Olson said.

    Shakur’s demeanor coupled with McClellan’s declining play caused Arizona’s guard play to struggle.

    McClellan, Arizona’s likely team leader next season, managed an above-average game against Purdue but was relegated to the bench for the second half of the season after enduring stress from an offseason knee surgery, as well as the inability to make shots he was hitting earlier.

    Rarely did Arizona get contributions from everyone on the floor. When a few players found their “”A”” games, others failed to step up.

    “”I think I failed in leading this team to achieve whatever they are capable of,”” said senior forward Ivan Radenovic, who went from 19 and 37 points against California and Stanford, respectively, to scoring six and 12 in Arizona’s final two games.

    The Wildcats claimed that the chemistry issues of the year prior – when Chris Rodgers butted heads with Olson and his teammates, and Hassan Adams butted heads with the police – were gone.

    Prior to the Purdue game, players tossed around a yellow rubber ball. Any dissent in the locker room appeared non-existent, or at the least swept under the rug for the time being.

    The team seemed as close as ever off the floor, but when it stepped onto the hardwood, it failed to mesh.

    “”You hate to say it, you don’t have good chemistry with each other because everybody is trying to get their own…even though we had great chemistry this year off the court,”” McClellan said.

    The new white jerseys Arizona wore against Purdue were unique, but the writing was the same. Arizona’s attitude toward the letters turned cavalier.

    “”We might have lost a little pride wearing that ‘Arizona’ across our chests,”” Brielmaier said. “”We expected us to come out and win and other teams to just lay down for us. It’s frustrating.””

    Whether it was Purdue that finally stuck the dagger into Arizona’s heart, or just further exposed the Wildcats’ lack of toughness, Olson responded quickly by pledging a revamped offseason strength program.

    Hitting the weight room will be a plus for Arizona, but looking in the mirror might do it just as good.

    “”A lot of it is having that feeling in you the next two weeks – ‘I’m gonna be sick’ – watching the tournament go on,”” Brielmaier said. “”That’s motivation to not ever be sitting here again.””

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