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Schwartz on Sports: Court rushing needs to stop


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Michael Schwartz/assistant sports editor
By Michael Schwartz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, January 19, 2006
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Every road loss feels like "Groundhog Day" for the Arizona men's basketball team.

You know the drill by now.

The Wildcats dig themselves a nice big hole, launch a furious comeback and end up frustratingly short at the buzzer of a road game they should have won.

While you're staring in shock at your television after watching Arizona lose to unranked Houston or Oregon State or Oregon, those teams' fans are partying at center court, acting like their squad just punched a ticket to the Final Four.

While Arizona head coach Lute Olson has won a national championship, coached in four Final Fours and has made reaching the NCAA tournament as certain as the sun rising at Arizona (well, except for this year), nothing shows a sign of respect for a program like fans constantly storming the court on the rare occasion that they defeat the Wildcats.

Beating Arizona can be the highlight of the season for mediocre squads whose only hope for postseason play is the National Invitational Tournament, as many experts expect of the Oregon schools and Houston.

However, how many teams need to experience this "highlight" and how far does Arizona need to drop in the Associated Press poll (they're currently ranked No. 39, down in the "Others Receiving Votes" category) before it's not such a big deal?

Rushing the court or field has become way too commonplace in high school and college athletics.

It should be reserved for the truly great victories, either when the home team scores on the last possession or it's such a big upset and program-changing win - such as Arizona's upset of undefeated and then-No. 7 UCLA in football on Nov. 5 - that it warrants such a response.

Beavers and Ducks fans rushed after wins over what Olson termed a "mediocre" Arizona squad that now sits behind both Oregon squads in the Pacific 10 Conference standings.

How much sense does that make?

It seems like they rush the floor because of the name on the jersey rather than the actual quality of their opponent or the excitement level of that particular game.

Olson has challenged his team many times throughout the years about playing for that same "Arizona" on their chests, explaining how other teams will always give his squad their best shot.

Apparently the opposition's fans have the same respect.

On the flip side, how often have you rushed the McKale Center court?

That's what I thought.

While football fans rushed the field for the UCLA upset, last year's knockout of the ranked Scum Devils and 2003's takedown of Washington, Olson's program has been at such a consistently high level for such a long time that home wins are expected - taken for granted, even - thus making no victory worthy of stomping around at center court.

While most excited college kids celebrating a victory by storming the court likely do not care in the heat of the moment, having so many people celebrating in such a small area is anything but safe.

Just ask former Tucson High School basketball player Joe Kay, who suffered a stroke after fans stormed the court and trampled him following an emphatic slam to put the finishing touches on a huge win over basketball power Tucson Salpointe two years ago.

Instead of playing Division I volleyball at Stanford, he's working as a Cardinal student on overcoming the language impediment aphasia suffered on that fateful day.

Still, during all the field and court rushings in high school and college athletics, it's rare to find an athlete injured to the extent that Kay was.

It's still a great way to celebrate a monster win, like two years ago when the then-No. 2 and undefeated Stanford basketball team shocked the Wildcats on a 35-foot buzzer beater by then-junior forward Nick Robinson for the Cardinal's first home win in five years over Arizona. That game had as dramatic a finish as is possible in the sport, with Stanford stealing the ball in the final seconds before the desperation heave, and had the importance of keeping the Cardinal's record unblemished against a tough rival.

Even Stanford alumnus Tiger Woods joined in the melee after that stunning finish. That's a little different than hanging on to beat a then-No.24 Arizona squad in a result that guaranteed they would depart from the national rankings after having already dropped for the first time in 312 weeks earlier in the year.

With every team in the conference having at least two losses three weeks into the season, the parity in this league makes it crazy for any team to have such a big victory that it warrants rushing the court.

Even cellar dweller ASU nearly knocked off conference leader UCLA at home, although so few students attend Sun Devils games that there would be no one to rush the floor anyway.

If a middle-of-the-pack Atlantic Coast Conference team knocks off No. 1 and undefeated Duke on its home floor, that's reason enough to celebrate.

But for all of Arizona's achievements in the Lute Olson era, that alone is no reason to rush the court.

Michael Schwartz is a journalism sophomore. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu



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