KEVIN KLAUS/Arizona Daily Wildcat
UA freshman center Channing Frye attempts a tip-in during Friday's game against Oregon. The Wildcats lost to the Ducks, 90-80, for the second time this season.
Wildcats emerge from break with lessons learned
The Wildcats found out just how cold it can be during this winter break.
After starting the season with a 5-1 mark, with four of those wins coming against top-25 opponents, the Wildcats were beginning to look like a team of destiny. Heading into the break, the Wildcats were ranked No. 7 in the country and looking to continue one of the most incredible runs in school history.
Then came Oregon. Twice.
After a difficult holiday season, the No. 20 Wildcats went into Sunday's game against Oregon State with an 8-4 record (1-2 Pac-10) and a new appreciation for how difficult things can be, especially if Luke Walton suffers another injury.
Thanks to a scheduling quirk because of the reintroduction of the Pacific 10 Conference Tournament, the Wildcats faced off with both Oregon schools in consecutive weeks. While emerging with a split on paper, the tests Arizona faced on the court were probably tougher than any final they had to take in the fall semester.
On Dec. 20, fresh off a tough loss to then-No. 23 Michigan State in East Lansing, Arizona headed to the Northwest in hopes of getting a good start to the Pac-10 season. Things would prove to be more difficult than expected, however.
Against Oregon State, the Wildcats were pushed to the edge by an upstart Beavers squad, 76-73. Thanks to the contributions of freshman center Channing Frye, who scored 18 points and grabbed 16 rebounds, and a +14 free-throw margin, the Wildcats managed to pull out a win. With two seconds remaining, Arizona dodged a bullet when Beaver guard Joe See missed a three-point attempt that would have sent the game to overtime.
"Sometimes you have to be lucky, and tonight we were lucky," Olson said after the game.
Arizona's luck wouldn't last too long, as it was trounced by Oregon two nights later, 105-75. The 30-point loss was the worst defeat suffered by the Wildcats in Lute Olson's tenure, and the game was marked by a record 13 3-pointers by Oregon on its home court.
After Arizona made an 8-0 run to pull the score to 49-30 at halftime, Oregon came out of the gates in the second half, dominating both on the perimeter and in the post.
The lone bright spot in for the Wildcats was the second consecutive strong showing for Frye, who again scored 18 points and added nine rebounds.
Arizona returned to Tucson for the Annual Bank One Fiesta Bowl Classic and took the title with wins against Pepperdine (who had beaten Pac-10 powerhouses UCLA and USC earlier in the season) and Valparaiso. However, the Wildcats suffered a monumental loss in the opening game against the Waves, when junior forward Luke Walton went down with a strained Achilles' tendon. He would not play in the Wildcats' next three games.
The Wildcats then returned to their Pac-10 schedule, playing host to both Oregon schools with redemption in mind.
But Oregon came out with the same fire it had in Eugene, and the Wildcats fell to the Ducks 90-80.
While the score was a little closer the second time around, Oregon beat the Wildcats with the same formula used in the first contest - torrid outside shooting and strong defense.
UO guard Luke Ridnour had a career game with 23 points and 10 assists, as the Ducks led by as many as 22 points in the second half. While the Wildcats' late comeback was purely cosmetic, it was only a Will Bynum three-pointer with less than 24 seconds remaining that prevented the loss from being the worst ever for Arizona in McKale Center.
The low point of the game came in the first half, when Lute Olson stormed out to halfcourt during a timeout to protest what he felt were two missed calls in the previous series. After receiving a technical foul, assistant coach Jim Rosborough had to run out and restrain the furious Olson, who was likely close to being kicked out of the game.
"We battled hard, but even with Luke (Walton), I don't know how much of a difference it would have made. We just have to keep working. We have to play every possession with urgency, urgency on defense and urgency on offense," Olson said.