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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Dud in the desert

Dud+in+the++desert

TEMPE, Ariz. — The Sun Devil fans gloated over a blocked kick.

They played a pregame tune with a “”This Is Our House”” hook, but if you didn’t know otherwise, ASU was subletting parts of Wells Fargo Arena to the Arizona Wildcats.

In the context of where the two teams stand, last night was the usual Duel in the Desert basketball game — Lute Olson might as well have been pointing at the scoreboard, which read 67-52 in an ugly, grind-it-out win for Arizona.

But there’s this question: As an Arizona fan, should you be happy with this? Hate ASU all you want, but think what could be if they had a good basketball team.

Think of how much more important Sunday’s game would’ve been.

You’d care a little more, wouldn’t you?

Every time a Pacific 10 Conference team comes to the great state of Arizona, they know what to expect.

Expect a battle in Tucson. Expect a win in Tempe, and though Arizona coach Sean Miller won’t admit it, that’s an assumption other teams probably make.

After the game, Arizona Republic columnist Paola Boivin didn’t ask Miller about ASU fans panicking without reason.

“”Their fans have no reason to panic,”” Miller responded. “”Watching Herb, what he’s done day one against the odds that he had … sometimes seasons happen like this now. It’s not like it used to be. Nobody has that room for error that maybe we once did.””

But Arizona does have some room for error against the Sun Devils, and it’s fair that ASU fans are panicking over another era where they’d be lucky to make the NIT.

Last night wasn’t picture perfect at all. No team shot better than 40 percent and Arizona’s star, Derrick Williams, was relatively quiet, scoring 11 points and grabbing five rebounds. The double-digit Wildcat win came anyway.

So what would Arizona gain from their rivals up the I-10 beating up a Washington or UCLA on a Thursday before having to play in McKale Center? How much viciousness would accompany two Top 25 teams playing twice a year?

It’s fun to think about. But as it stands, that’s all you can really do — think about it.

Herb Sendek is a savvy coach, and he didn’t find success in the ACC by accident. But whether it’s a product of the ASU athletic program or otherwise, he’s not getting the talent to Tempe.

Miller stole freshman Daniel Bejarano out of Sendek’s backyard, and Bejarano’s AAU coach and mentor said the Sun Devils decided he wouldn’t fit into their system. How can it be, that talent doesn’t fit?

While Bejarano has not seen any playing time at Arizona, it’s not as if recruits in Sendek’s tenure have panned out aside from the former Sun Devil James Harden. He got a big name prospect in freshman Keala King and has Mesa High School’s Jahii Carson coming next season. Their development will be essential, but that comes after Sendek has seen a number of players — Rihards Kuksiks and Ty Abbott come to mind — that haven’t improved, and sometimes even regressed, during their time as a Sun Devil.

So then it must be asked: what’s causing mediocrity? It’s not like Tempe doesn’t have the pretty girls, the 70 degree winter days and the facilities that drives recruits to Tucson.

Maybe it’s because ASU doesn’t have the culture.

Look what fierce rivalries that have cultures of winning produced elsewhere. Glance at Sendek’s old North Carolina State team, who ran him out after he couldn’t guide the Wolfpack through the Duke, North Carolina and Wake Forest buzz saw.

It’s looking like history might repeat itself in the state of Arizona, where playing second-fiddle doesn’t just mean losing to the Wildcats, but going 1-11 in conference and struggling to reach the NCAA Tournament year in, year out.

That’s a shame, because Miller selling recruits on playing a heated rivalry twice a year would make the state of Arizona basketball a whole other monster. Requiring opponents to split their worries over two NCAA Tournament level teams for a weekend could theoretically give Arizona an added advantage, too.

Last night, pockets of maroon seats toward the heights of Wells Fargo Arena were left empty. Lulls in scoring aligned with lulls in an energy the rivalry once spewed despite Arizona’s usual dominance.

What might ignite this rivalry, waking up the Arizona fans growing sleepy of wins against the Sun Devils all while helping the image of Arizona basketball?

Maybe ASU basketball climbing into relevancy.

 

— Kevin Zimmerman is a journalism senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu

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