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Commentary: Alas! Salvation is near

By Chris Martin

Friday October 26, 2001
Headline Photo

Chris Martin

Once again, the UA football season has been a disaster.

The Wildcats haven't won a Pacific 10 Conference game since the triple-overtime thriller against Washington State last Family Weekend, and I wouldn't expect that to happen again this year.

The team's annual futility has lead Wildcat fans to turn their collective attention toward the pride of Arizona - no, not the lame band, but the UA basketball team.

There are only 13 days left until Lute's boys hit the hardwood against Maryland in the Coaches vs. Cancer IKON Classic at Madison Square Garden and I can't wait.

The game should be a colossal battle, as Maryland returns the nucleus of its team that almost knocked off the Dukies in last season's Final Four.

Fans can look forward to seeing Gilbert Arenas locking up Juan Dixon on the perimeter, Richard Jefferson chasing Tahj Holden through a maze of screens and Michael Wright and Lonny Baxter battling it out on the post.

Actually, no, they can't.

Because of the departures of Jefferson, Arenas and Wright, the Wildcats seem to have fallen off the national radar.

This mistake has been made before, however, and every time they have been faced with adversity, Arizona has come running out of the gates with a new look but the same results.

Arenas might be gone, but Will Bynum will do just as well. Richard Jefferson is getting lit up by Michael Jordan now, but Ricky Anderson will light up the Pac-10 with his three-point bombs and improved post play. Loren Woods is digging himself out of the snow in Minnesota, but UA has another lanky shot blocker in Channing Frye.

Frye might not replace Woods immediately, and Anderson won't be playing above the rim like RJ, but UA will compete and remain one of the top teams in the nation.

This says a lot for a team with six freshmen and two sophomores, but it says even more for the coaching staff.

Coach O is like Jesus Christ - he works miracles.

This team has a brutal schedule - tougher than any other team in the country - and opens the year up against the Terps, either Temple or Florida, Texas, Illinois, Kansas, Purdue and Michigan State.

Any other team in the country with a starting lineup of Jason Gardner, Bynum, Luke Walton, Anderson and Isaiah Fox would probably be searching for its third win when Pac-10 play begins on Dec. 20.

Not these Wildcats. Lute will have his boys at 5-2, being lauded on ESPN, Fox Sports, CNNSI and every other sports media outlet as the surprise team of the year.

This year's team has a lot of similarities to the 1998 Arizona squad. With the only proven players being point guard Jason Terry and center A.J. Bramlett, everyone overlooked the Cats when the season began.

No one knew that Wright would be a stud and Jefferson a serviceable wing player as freshmen. So, Terry went on to become the Player of the Year , and the Wildcats finished the season as one of the top teams in the country.

Now I'm not saying that Gardner is going to average 25 a game and outshine Duke's Jason Williams for Player of the Year honors, but the Wildcats should finish the year with at least 22 wins and contend for a Pac-10 title.

So don't worry fans - the pride of Arizona will bring back some respect to the Old Pueblo.



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