Close not close enough for Stoops' Wildcats
Arizona football players don't frequently toss horseshoes after practice.
It's also not likely that many Wildcats have experience flinging hand-grenades.
Maybe they should start.
After the Wildcats' 9-7 loss at the hands of a deeper, more physical, and, well, simply better Wisconsin team Saturday, the consolation phrase "getting closer" was thrown around, seemingly at will.
That is, by everyone except the Arizona players themselves.
"We want to get a 'W,'" said senior tight end Steve Fleming after the team's second "close" loss in as many weeks. "We can only get so close."
Last week, close was losing by just 17 to a nationally-ranked Utah team. Close was the Wildcats' ability to put up as many yards as a quicker, more dynamic opposing offense - 312 to Utah's 326 - save for garbage time when the Utes were just trying to run out the clock.
In what way was Arizona anything but close? Turnovers. Four of them to be exact, the primary difference between a
competitive game and a 23-6 loss.
Close this week meant failing to pull out a "W" in the final minute because of a missed field goal. The storyline may have been different against the Badgers Saturday but the result will always be the same, if you ask the UA players.
"It's frustrating to be this close on back-to-back weeks," Fleming said. "At some point we just have to learn how to win."
Arizona's defense held Wisconsin in check, amidst rainy weather, a wet field and an 88-minute delay that threatened to shut down the operation altogether.
"It's not progress," junior defensive back Lamon Means said of losing by just the equivalent of a safety. "The only thing that matters is a win."
Wisconsin didn't score until the fourth quarter and the Wildcats won the turnover battle, 2-0, after recovering a pair of fumbles.
"I think we're past that stage of moral victory," said junior tailback Mike Bell, not caring the Arizona is the only team to score a touchdown on Wisconsin all season. "We just need to win."
The closer the Wildcats get, the less it matters, though. To a team that's as familiar with losing as it is with the path from the locker room underneath Arizona Stadium to the friendly confines of McKale Center, coming close has just lost its luster.
"That was a big loss. We felt like we could have won that game," said Bell, who, despite breaking free for a 34-yard gain early in the second quarter, finished with just 43 yards on nine carries. "That's why the team's so hurt."
"We played a team but it wasn't enough to get it done," Means said. "We just have to go back and try again next week."
The Wildcat players can hang their hats on the fact that coming close isn't satisfying anymore. But they also must be proud that they all agree that a meaningful victory is the only thing left for a team that's won just seven of its last 32 games, dating back to 2000.
"We had an opportunity to win," said UA head coach Mike Stoops, "but there's a fine line between winning and losing."
At this point, for this Wildcat team, that line's barely visible anymore.