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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Wildcats make 24th straight NCAA Tournament

    Arizona mens basketball interim head coach Kevin ONeill addresses the media Sunday afternoon after learning that the Wildcats earned a bid to the schools 24th straight NCAA Tournament. Arizona, a No. 10 seed, takes on No. 7 West Virginia Thursday in Washington D.C.
    Arizona men’s basketball interim head coach Kevin O’Neill addresses the media Sunday afternoon after learning that the Wildcats earned a bid to the school’s 24th straight NCAA Tournament. Arizona, a No. 10 seed, takes on No. 7 West Virginia Thursday in Washington D.C.

    With 23 straight NCAA Tournament appearances on the line, Kevin O’Neill sat at home with his wife, Roberta, as the final Tournament bracket was announced on CBS Sunday afternoon.

    His phone rang off the hook when the Arizona men’s basketball team was placed in the West Regional as a No. 10 seed to go up against No. 7 West Virginia in the Verizon Center in Washinton D.C. at 6:40 p.m. MST on Thursday.

    The winner will face No. 2 Duke or No. 15 Belmont in a second-round game Saturday. That winner will advance to the West Region semifinals in Phoenix.

    It’s all a stimulating experience for O’Neill, UA’s interim head coach.

    “”It sounds crazy, but this is as excited as I’ve been in basketball my whole career for many reasons,”” O’Neill said. “”I’m excited for the players, I’m excited for myself, I’m excited for the university, for (UA athletics director) Jim Livengood and for everyone that’s involved. I think it’s a great accomplishment to make the NCAA Tournament.””

    This comes from a man with 27 years of coaching experience, from high school clear through the NBA. And still, one of his most exhilarating moments came when the Wildcats’ near future was broadcast during a TV show. It was the moment when he found out head coach Lute Olson’s streak would continue.

    “”The biggest compliment to the program is what Lute’s done over the past 23 years,”” O’Neill said. “”To get us to a point where we can get a 24th straight NCAA Tournament bid is phenomenal. It’s really difficult as a team to feel like we did something special because it’s been done before over and over for 23 straight years. But in my own mind I think this team did something special this year.””

    O’Neill admitted that thoughts went through his mind during the season about continuing the streak amongst the turmoil of Olson’s season-long leave and how unfortunate it would be to end the streak. After all, the team went 19-14 and 8-10 in the Pacific 10 Conference. And still he said, “”There was no doubt in my mind we were getting in.””

    O’Neill attributed the team’s entrance into the Big Dance to the players on the team. The ones who played most of the season with the toughest strength of schedule in the nation, according to the Ratings Percentage Index, before dropping to the second hardest with three matchups against Pac-10 cellar dwellers Oregon State.

    They were the same players who fought through injuries to key players and had to cope with a freshman guard, Laval Lucas-Perry, transferring to Michigan after the first semester.

    “”I could never be more proud of a team for what they’ve done,”” O’Neill said. “”All the adversity. All the injuries. All of everything. The pressure of trying to keep the streak alive.

    “”I am eternally grateful for the effort they had all year,”” he added. “”For the respect they had for the game all year. Because of what curveballs were thrown. They did whatever they had to do to play their hardest and play their best.””

    Despite finishing up the regular Pac-10 season in seventh place at 8-10, Arizona was one of six teams in the conference to get to the tournament. Oregon was given a No. 9 seed with a 9-9 Pac-10 record. It marks the first time any team from the conference made it with a .500 or worse record.

    ASU, who finished tied for fifth in the Pac-10, had the same conference record as Oregon but did not make it into the Tournament. The Sun Devils beat five teams in the RPI top 40 and swept the Wildcats but didn’t make the cut, in large part because of their No. 296 nonconference strength of schedule and No. 83 RPI rating.

    “”I think ASU should have been in the Tournament,”” O’Neill said. “”…I want everyone in our league in the Tournament. I wish we had nine teams in our Tournament. I feel bad for them.””

    Washington State head coach Tony Bennett felt the same after his team beat Oregon in day two of the Pac-10 Tournament in Los Angeles Thursday.

    “”People don’t realize how hard-fought this league is,”” Bennett said. “”To go .500 in this league this year I think it says enough. I would be disappointed if a 9-9 team in this league doesn’t get a bid.””

    O’Neill said he thought Arizona’s Tournament berth was due to its strength of schedule, its RPI (No. 38) and the fact that key Wildcats were injured for substantial amounts of time.

    Forward Bret Brielmaier missed 13 games with a separated shoulder. Guard Jerryd Bayless missed four games with a sprained right knee and guard Nic Wise didn’t play for seven straight games because of a torn meniscus in his left knee.

    Arizona went 16-6 when Bayless and Wise played.

    NCAA selection committee chairman Tom O’Connor, the athletic director at George Mason, noticed the importance of Wise and Bayless and added that their play – not the absence of Olson – accounted for the team’s losses when the players were out.

    “”What people forget sometimes is that the players are the ones who play,”” O’Connor said. “”And performance on the court is extremely important. And while the coach is there to teach the game of basketball during practice and do all the things that happen during a game strategically, it’s still the players on the court who were playing.

    “”When Wise and Bayless were out, that wasn’t a coaching situation. I think Kevin did a nice job this year.””

    O’Neill said he thought Arizona would have won two or three games more without the losses of the two guards.

    “”The bottom line is we’re a pretty good team,”” he said.

    Whatever the reason is for the Wildcats’ lengthened streak, the coach is happy and so should the entire Tucson community. It means that the 2007-08 Wildcats live to see at least one more game, if not more.

    “”I’m ecstatic that these guys are getting the chance to keep playing and keep practicing and getting a chance to show who they are,”” O’Neill said. “”I think we’re going to play a lot more basketball.””

    And 1

    The No. 10 seed ties Arizona’s lowest seed in its 26 tournament appearances. It was the same seed in 1985 and 1987. …

    Arizona, which finished the season 19-14, has the least amount of wins in the Tournament pool with the exception of Oregon (18-13), Mississippi Valley State (17-15) and Georgia (17-16).


    West Regional

    Anaheim, Calif., March 20 & 22
    No. 1 UCLA vs. No. 16 Miss. Valley State
    No. 8 BYU vs. No. 9 Texas A&M

    Tampa, Fla., March 21 & 23
    No. 5 Drake vs. No. 12 Western Kentucky
    No. 4 Connecticut vs. No. 13 San Diego

    Washington D.C., March 20 & 22
    No. 6 Purdue vs. No. 11 Baylor
    No. 3 Xavier vs. No. 14 Georgia

    Washington D.C., March 20 & 22
    No. 7 West Virginia vs. No. 10 Arizona
    No. 2 Duke vs. No. 15 Belmont

    East Regional

    Raleigh, N.C., March 21 & 23
    No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 16 Mt. St. Mary’s/Coppin St.
    No. 8 Indiana vs. No. 9 Arkansas

    Denver, March 20 & 22
    No. 5 Notre Dame vs. No. 12 George Mason
    No. 4 Washington State vs. No. 13 Winthrop

    Birmingham, Ala., March 21 & 23
    No. 6 Oklahoma vs. No. 11 Saint Joseph’s
    No. 3 Louisville vs. No. 14 Boise State

    Birmingham, Ala., March 21 & 23
    No. 7 Butler vs. No. 10 South Alabama
    No. 2 Tennessee vs. No. 15 American

    Midwest Regional

    Omaha, Neb., March 20 & 22
    No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 Portland State
    No. 8 UNLV vs. No. 9 Kent State

    Tampa, Fla., March 21 & 23
    No. 5 Clemson vs. No. 12 Villanova
    No. 4 Vanderbilt vs. No. 13 Siena

    Omaha, Neb., March 20 & 22
    No. 6 USC vs. No. 11 Kansas State
    No. 3 Wisconsin vs. No. 14 Cal St. Fullerton

    Raleigh, N.C., March 21 & 23
    No. 7 Gonzaga vs. No. 10 Davidson
    No. 2 Georgetown vs. No. 2 UMBC

    South Regional

    Little Rock, Ark., March 21 & 23
    No. 1 Memphis vs. No. 16 Texas-Arlington
    No. 8 Mississippi State vs. No. 9 Oregon

    Denver, March 20 & 22
    No. 5 Michigan State vs. No. 12 Temple
    No. 4 Pittsburgh vs. No. 13 Oral Roberts

    Anaheim, Calif., March 20 & 22
    No. 6 Marquette vs. No. 11 Kentucky
    No. 3 Stanford vs. No. 14 Cornell

    Little Rock, Ark., Marck 21 & 23
    No. 7 Miami vs. No. 10 Saint Mary’s
    No. 2 Texas vs. No. No. 15 Austin Peay


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