Young Wildcats not down on themselves
SALT LAKE CITY-It wasn't a boisterous locker room. It wasn't noisy or happy, you could even hear a pin drop.
But it was definitely not a locker room where guys were hanging their heads and asking the famous "what if" questions.
When a team starts three freshman and two sophomores, not much is expected, especially when that team only has two reserves - of which one is a sophomore and the other a junior.
These are not excuses to why the UA men's basketball team lost to the Wisconsinn Badgers 66-59 on Saturday evening at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, but they are facts.
Add to these facts that this same team lost three players early in the season to transfers - Luke Recker, Ruben Douglas and Robertas Javtokas, one to a medical redshirt that is still pending - Lamont Frazier, two key players suffered long-term injuries at different points of the season - Loren Woods and Richard Jefferson and one of the senior leaders decided to redshirt the season to concentrate on graduating - Gene Edgerson.
Yet Arizona went on to share the Pacific 10 Conference championship and earned a No. 1 seed in the West, mainly because it beat the co-champs, the Stanford Cardinal, twice.
So, when UA head coach Lute Olson said he is proud of his players, they are not just words of encouragement to a team that has just become one of the fallen.
"I am very proud of their effort because all year long they have had to face unbelievable types of problems that I think it would be easy for guys to lean on those and use those as excuses, I don't think they have ever done that," Olson said. "They continued to battle and scrap all the way."
The Wildcats season came to an abrupt halt earlier than they would have liked, but that doesn't mean the players are ashamed of their season.
"It is very disappointing because everyone was expecting us to lose. We went out and played hard, but they just played harder and smarter," UA freshman guard Gilbert Arenas said. "We are all young, so we'll have more experience next year. We are happy with ourselves because we weren't supposed to get this far. We are happy with the Pac-10 championship and the No. 1 seed. We reached two out of three goals and that is very good."
The Wildcats now can take some time to reflect on the season that has just past, but most of all they have the opportunity to look forward to next year, during which they hope to have everybody back in the lineup, healthy and ready to make a run at the national championship.
"They shared the Pac-10 title, they won 27 games, they are a great group of young people to be around and they got beat by a better team," Olson said. "We just need to build on what we have learned this year and hopefully get into a year where we can play with all of our people. I think they did a great job, but experience can only be gained by playing."
And if everyone comes back, it could be scary for the rest of the nation.
"I am going to start on Monday working on my jump shot and lifting weights," Arenas said.