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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Roy: Hoops season runs parallel to a semester

    Russ Pennell is ready for the Wildcats final exam on Friday in Miami.
    Russ Pennell is ready for the Wildcats’ “”final exam”” on Friday in Miami.

    Inside Arizona Basketball by Bryan Roy

    Pencils sharpened, cell phones off, and backpacks stowed like in an airplane departure. It’s takeoff time for the big final exam.

    Sneakers laced, ankles wrapped tight, and fresh uniforms neatly tucked in like a fourth grader’s first-day-of-school outfit. It’s game time for this big final go-around.

    Up until this point, you’ve sculpted a semester’s worth of academic work – enough to use it as a foundation heading into the final exam, but not something that could single-handedly determine whether this year was successful.

    Up until this point, the Wildcats have sculpted a season’s worth of hardwood results – enough to provide an NCAA Tournament berth, but not something that could already deem the season successful or failure as a whole.

    Because this is the big moment.

    The moment could make or break the semester. A passing grade on the final exam could bump your overall grade up to the next letter. A failing grade could erase everything you’ve worked for throughout the entire semester.

    The moment will make or break the season. A win would boost the Wildcats’ accomplishments this season up to the next level. A loss would erase everything they’ve built, survived and worked for throughout the entire season.

    This must be the big moment.

    Remember way, way back about four months ago? The first day of classes gave professors a chance to spew the same old baloney about how excited they were and how great the semester would be.

    Remember way, way back about four months ago? Media day gave players and coaches a chance to spew the same old baloney about how cautiously optimistic they were and how great the season would be.

    At the beginning, that dreaded syllabus looked extremely overwhelming with projects, quizzes and exams day after day.

    At the beginning, that dreaded schedule looked extremely overwhelming with strong nonconference opponents, top-10 teams and the rigorous Pac-10 format night after night.

    But you made it.

    But the Wildcats made it. Now, this is the big moment that captivates the successes, struggles and stupidity.

    You made it through ditching classes, scrapping together four-page essays at 2:30 a.m., and cramming in that awful bi-monthly online quiz due at midnight – despite how easy it was to cheat on.

    They made it through the transfer of Jeff Withey, pulling out a prayer comeback win over Houston as the clock struck midnight, and barely keeping the proverbial NCAA Tournament bubble inflated – despite the sharp thorns of ridiculous automatic bids like Mississippi State and USC.

    In some classes, the final exam doesn’t carry too much weight to the semester’s overall outcome. But not this class.

    In some seasons, the first Tournament game doesn’t carry too much weight to the season’s overall perception – whether it can be viewed as a success or failure. But not this mediocre season that fans are still on the fence about judging.

    You had streaks of “”A”” grades on difficult exams early on, then slacked around the midway point – raising eyebrows and blood pressure heading into the Final exam.

    They had streaks of impressive wins against nationally ranked teams early on, then slacked down the stretch, going 1-5 to end the season – raising the freshly grown facial hair and blood pressure heading into Selection Sunday.

    Your final exam could be the difference between a “”B”” and a “”C”” grade.

    The Wildcats’ first-round game Friday in Miami against Utah will be the difference between a “”B”” and “”C”” overall graded season.

    But it’ll take an A-plus effort.

    “”This is our chance, our shot to go out strong, to make a run and kind of show everybody that we’re better than what people were saying about us,”” said UA wing Chase Budinger.

    Added UA point guard Nic Wise: “”Friday can’t come fast enough for us. … We’re just ready for Friday to come so you can do what you came here to do: Play ball and have a chance at the national championship.””

    History awaits the ruling on Arizona’s 25th consecutive Tournament appearance as to whether the 2008-09 season can be considered a success.

    While a prayer may have delivered the Wildcats’ at-large bid this March – thanks to Lute Olson’s ambitious scheduling – there’s no doubt those good feelings end if the Wildcats lay an egg in Miami.

    Will this year just be about continuing the streak?

    With two potential first-round NBA Draft picks, I would certainly hope not.

    Is there satisfaction just reaching the Tournament?

    Ask last season’s team after they lost to West Virginia. Sure it’s an accomplishment to be selected into the Big Dance, but can these Wildcats still consider that a success?

    Arizona’s Big Three – Budinger, Wise and Jordan Hill – all face the serious reality of never winning an NCAA Tournament game in their college careers.

    Not one.

    The Big Three already crossed one career goal off their list: Beating UCLA.

    Now, in order for them to circle “”D. All of the above”” when asked about the completing their list of accomplishments as Wildcats, they must win the big one on Friday.

    “”Our goal is never just to get here,”” UA interim head coach Russ Pennell said Monday.

    It’s crunch time.

    – Bryan Roy is a journalism sophomore. He can be reached at

    Stay with all week for NCAA Tournament coverage from Miami with Daily Wildcat beat writers Bryan Roy and Lance Madden. Follow us on Twitter here.

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