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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    UA basketball is able to use ‘moral loss’ to encourage

    Bryan Roy -
    Bryan Roy –

    It’s official: The Russ Pennell era will not go undefeated, as if anyone would’ve predicted otherwise.

    Even Pennell, the program’s second consecutive interim head coach, knew tough times were ahead.

    But this soon? And this tough?

    Nobody foresaw this Arizona team being of national championship-caliber, but nobody imagined the bizarre fashion of Tuesday night’s 72-71 loss to Alabama-Birmingham either.

    The Wildcats’ two last-minute fouls sent UA Basketball to the line with the game tied, 71-71, giving the Blazers two separate opportunities to sink game-winning free throws with 25 and .8 seconds remaining, respectively.

    A complete lack of communication and awareness occurred on the court, as the heat of the moment influenced both freshmen Kyle Fogg and sophomore Jamelle Horne to commit mental mistakes.

    Pennell and the Arizona bench held their hands above their heads, gazing blankly up at the jumbotron with awe. Replay after replay, players and fans painfully realized it really just happened.

    It came from Fogg’s inexperience. It came from Horne’s unawareness.

    It really happened.

    “”I want it to sting. I want it to hurt,”” Pennell said after the game.

    Come Wednesday morning, UA students, fans and the national media took Pennell’s words seriously.

    ESPN’s loud-mouth talking heads – Jay Mariotti and Woody Paige – discussed Horne’s foul, then argued where to place the blame between Pennell and Horne on “”Around the Horn.””

    Garbage Internet message boards and Web sites mocked the Wildcats, saying they “”pulled a Donovan McNabb”” by not knowing about overtime.

    The mistake even prompted SportsCenter to pile on the scrutiny and air highlights from all-time late-game blunders in sports.

    Judging by the morning-after backlash, it could’ve been easy for Horne and Fogg to hide in the showers as the media entered their locker room after the game.

    Instead, the gut-retching loss unintentionally – and unknowingly – brought the team together. It wasn’t a season-defining loss by any means; but rather, it was a moral loss that promoted motivation and camaraderie.

    Moral loss? Some coaches and players believe the term moral victory describes an underdog that lost with successful efforts – whereas, a moral loss occurred Tuesday night with Arizona’s second-half resiliency and off-court identity.

    It began with UA forward Chase Budinger, the team leader who took blame for the loss and lack of communication.

    “”I take some fault for it,”” Budinger said in a somber locker room. “”Me being the leader out there on the court, I gotta really be focused in, especially during the end of the game. I should’ve really been on top of that to really let the guys know not to foul.””

    Following the interview, on his way to the shower, Budinger stuck up for Horne twice, telling reporters gathered outside his locker that Horne had nothing more to say.

    Instead, Horne showed maturity, facing the difficult questions from reporters.

    “”It obviously shows our immaturity on the floor, especially in crunch time,”” Horne said. “”Hopefully we will take this as a learning experience, because I know I will. And as a team we’ll grow.””

    If it wasn’t obvious by Budinger’s actions, Horne made it clear how supportive his teammates acted afterward.

    “”They just embraced me,”” Horne said. “”They’re a great team. They said it was a collective effort. That’s a real team.””

    Pennell, halfway across McKale Center in the media room, added, “”We don’t leave each other’s side. I think he will recover fine because we will spend a lot of time with him. His teammates will spend a lot of time with him.

    “”We’re going to do everything in our power to keep this team together and keep them focused, and keep them on the same page,”” Pennell added. “”And I don’t think tonight will take away from that.””

    Pennell could’ve made the argument that Horne’s foul shouldn’t have been called intentional; would the refs have called that if Arizona was down by two? Instead, Pennell will move forward and use this as motivation. Because, most certainly, the pain and emotion won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

    “”You’ve got guys that are balling their eyes out, and to me, I like that,”” Pennell said. “”I like it because I know they care, and I know they want to do better.

    “”When you get a group of guys that can capture that feeling – they don’t like it, it hurts, it makes them sick – your practices are never the same. And there have been signs of this in practice. We just can’t sustain things a lot of times, and I think a lot of it is just paying a little extra attention to detail.””

    – Bryan Roy is a journalism sophomore. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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