Before you post a response to the column wondering why the Friday Fizz is published on a Tuesday, remember “The Fizz” is a personality, not a story title. Without further ado, let’s get straight to Arizona softball.
Believe it or not, Angelo Chol (No. 30) is looking even more muscular these days.
I’m concerned. Is UA softball going the way of Wildcat basketball? Stick with me here. Under Lute Olson, Arizona reached the Final Four at least once every four years (after reaching its first Final Four in 1988). However, that streak was snapped when Illinois broke the will of every Wildcat fan with its stunning closing minutes rally in the 2005 Elite Eight. Hence, the last time Arizona basketball made a Final Four was 2001. Think about that for a second, 2001! Yes, folks, that’s over a decade ago. Similarly, Arizona softball just missed the WCWS for the second-straight season for the first time in over two decades. Granted, this isn’t anything to get overly worried about, but Arizona softball is no longer the guaranteed super power of the west in women’s athletics. The question is why? Parity plays a big part, and Arizona should be credited for creating such parity. After dominating softball for nearly 15 years, the Wildcats forced other Pac-10 programs to up the ante and invest in their softball programs. However, it’s more than that because despite the improved play of conference teams (Cal, ASU and Oregon all reached this year’s WCWS), Arizona isn’t getting blasted by these programs in the NCAA’s. Oklahoma has pasted the Wildcats in the past two Super Regionals, including last weekend when the Sooners outscored the Wildcats 13-1 over two games to sweep the series and advance. The year prior, Arizona was eliminated from the World Series after getting decimated by Alabama. Personally, it seems like Arizona pitching has taken a hit (no pun intended) in recent seasons. Is it the hurlers, is it the loss of Nancy Evans as pitching coach? I’m not sure what the answer is, but since Taryn Mowatt graduated, the Wildcats haven’t had a dominant, unhittable presence taking the mound night in and night out.
While my support of the NBA has waned over time, one thing I do love about the league is winning championships come with a heavy price. The Miami Heat proved yet again that you can’t “buy” a ring without at least first having your wings clipped. Instead, teams need to first lose before they can win, almost like having to lose big before you can win big in Las Vegas. It took an epic Larry Bird steal and Dennis Johnson layup that crushed the Pistons before Detroit finally earned their championships. It took seven years for Dallas to finally get over the hump. Same for the San Antonio Spurs. Worse, some teams like the Phoenix Suns never got over the hump. This year, my guess is Miami breaks through, but not if they have to face the Spurs in the NBA Finals because team’s need to first take their lumps. Some would argue that the Heat falling to the Mavericks a year ago was a big enough lump, but the NBA basketball gods know better and may have more pain in store for LeBron James and others before they finally break through and get their hands on that awful looking trophy.
Speaking of the Heat, it was a comedy of errors for the Celtics in a game one loss to Miami Monday. The Celtics were 11-for-21 from the foul line (sound familiar Arizona basketball fans), shot 39% from the floor, had three technical fouls whistled against two players and their coach (for saying “C’mon Eddie” to the official), and a fourth on the team when Kevin Garnett was whistled for a delay of game violation. While it’s difficult imagining an aging Boston club beating the younger Heat, if I were a Miami fan I wouldn’t exactly feel comfortable either. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen (6-for-25 FGs) were non-factors on the offensive end of the floor, and Boston’s bench as a whole got torched by their Miami counterparts. If Boston can get anything resembling five players playing in unison on Wednesday, they could easily steal the game and strike some fear in the Heat. However, it will take better efforts from anyone not named Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rando as they appear they only two Celtics who have their heads screwed on straight right now.
Basketball writer Mike DeCourcey has Arizona basketball ranked No. 10 in his early preseason rankings. He won’t be the last to have the 2012-13 Wildcats in a preseason top 10 list. The addition of Xavier graduate and transfer Mark Lyons to Arizona gives the Wildcats a second senior out to prove something in his final college basketball season. Lyons, along with Arizona forward Solomon Hill will provide the Wildcats with two things the team sorely lacked last season, leadership and consistency. In any sport, the main thing a coach seeks from his roster is the ability to “count” on production from certain players. Whether a guy averages 20 points a game, or five, hitting that average consistently gives a team much-needed assurance when they take the floor. A year ago, aside from Jessie Perry’s double-doubles and Hill’s 12-15 points per night, Sean Miller couldn’t rely on any other player contributing to their averages each game. That’s just brutal, and a big reason why Arizona would look great on a Thursday and average on a Saturday. This season, things will be better because Miller can count on Hill and Lyons scoring in double figures every night. He can also count on about 10 points from shooting guard Nick Johnson, as well as about 6-8 rebounds and 2-3 blocks from Angelo Chol, who continues to add pure muscle to his already athletic frame. If the Wildcats can average 20-plus points from its starting backcourt next season (Lyons and Johnson), then the floor will open up inside for Arizona’s overhauled frontline to get the one-one-one matchups younger players need to be effective. Further, if someone like senior Kevin Parrom returns to being the Charlie Hustle guy fans are accustomed to seeing, the pressure on the Wildcat underclassmen to step in and contribute will be eased off enough to put them into a position to shine without the same level of scrutiny Johnson, Chol and Josiah Turner faced in 2011-12.
On the football side of the house, it’s going to drive me crazy to see Arizona predicted to finish around eighth-place in the conference – again. While Arizona has the home schedule (8 home games) to give itself a fighting chance, the Wildcats won’t be the only team in the Pac-12 who improved its program this offseason. USC, barring a meteor shower in Los Angeles this summer, will be the preaseason No. 1 team in the country – and the Trojans are in Arizona’s division. The Oregon Ducks are a top 10 team for sure while schools like Stanford, Washington, Utah and UCLA could all easily live inside the Top 25 for long stretches next season. The point is Arizona can’t rely on home field advantage as a means to winning games in 2012. Instead, the Wildcats will need to play well, and much better than they did in 2011. While I can’t see Arizona performing any worse than they did a season ago, I can see Arizona playing at a high level and still losing games. The reason is the wholesale changes being made to all three units. The philosophy is different, the alignments are different, the plays are different, and even the terminology is different. Working in Arizona’s favor is I’m a big believer in “attitude” at the college level, and if the attitude is right and guys are on the same page, mentally, good things can happen overnight. The bad news is insiders continue to share tales of separation within the program between those who have bought into Rich Rodriguez’s concepts and those who still need some convincing. The hope is those differences get ironed out this summer, along with the timing of Arizona’s offense when the skill players will work 7-on-7 drills until they’re blue in the face.
By now everyone’s seen the proposed copper helmet Arizona football plans to wear from time to time in future seasons. I used to be a traditionalist when it came to college sports, but those days have passed me by. So, I’ll make a deal with the University right now. I promise not to bash the copper helmets and whatever “special” uniform designers create to match as long as the team where’s copper-colored shoes to make the outfit complete from head to toe.
This is what cracks me up about life. The Department of Justice has been investigating the University of Montana, and the city of Missoula, for improper handling of sexual assault incidents on the campus. These incidents reportedly involved the Montana football team. After the long investigation, this brilliant response is the Montana school system Board of Regents came up with:
“The board directed each state college to appoint a coordinator to oversee gender equality issues. All employees will be required to undergo training for proper reporting of sexual assaults, and university staff most likely to field such complaints will receive advanced instruction. There are policies aimed at protecting the confidentiality of alleged victims. And the guidelines call for prompt investigation and written conclusion for each case with notification to parties involved.”
Is this stuff not common sense? Does each state college really have to appoint a coordinator to “oversee gender equality issues?” My point is how has this not already been done years, if not decades ago? It would seem to be that the Student Affairs office, or even each school’s human resources department would already be overseeing these types of programs, and more importantly have steps in place for all university officials (i.e. teachers, coaches, administrators, etc.) to follow when witness to, or informed of a sexual assault. Hey, I’m glad they’re taking action because sexual harassment and assault are no joking matter, but the schools having to be told that this stuff is not only important, but really, really, really serious is baffling to me.
With that said, here are my five common sense tips to help you survive the week:
1. Keep your head on a swivel and know your surroundings. If you can’t peel your eyes away from Facebook on your mobile phone for five minutes, you shouldn’t be allowed to walk in public.
2. Use your turn signal when driving. It’s amazing what this little flashing light can communicate to other drivers on the road.
3. Don’t be that guy or gal who orders seven lattes at Starbucks for the office staff. Not only do you make a three person wait a 10 person wait at the snap of a finger, you’re obviously at the bottom rung of your corporate ladder. It’s time to take a step up, bud.
4. For once, think before you speak. You just might realize that sometimes silence sends the loudest message.
Finally, a Laurel and Hardy congratulations to Arizona men’s baseball for not only becoming co-conference champions and making the NCAA’s, but for earning a host seed for the regionals, which begin this week. The Wildcats will take on Missouri Friday night, and could face Louisville, New Mexico State, or both, as the regional pod plays out in round-robin format. All Tucson regional games, except those on Sunday, will be televised on ESPNU, beginning with Arizona’s matchup with Mizzou on Friday at 8 p.m. PDT. Sunday’s game(s) will be aired at ESPN3.com.
Have a great week!
Bear Down, Everyone! And Bear Down, Arizona!
Gary Randazzo is publisher of Wildcat Sports Report. You can follow him on Twitter @garyrandazzo.