Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week 12

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 9th, 2015

Each week the Pac-12 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, which typically will include a Team, Player and Newcomer of the Week, along with our weekly Power Rankings.

Team of the Week: Arizona State

Arizona State's Performance On Saturday Sparked Celebration In Tempe

Arizona State’s Performance On Saturday Sparked Celebration In Tempe

In order to win our Team of the Week award in a week when a team plays just one game, that game had better be pretty special. Knocking off an intrastate rival is a good start. That the rival is a top five team definitely has me intrigued. Scoring 1.14 points per possession against the seventh-best defense in the country? Go on. Going out and getting that win in front of a raucous homecourt crowd on national television in a game where everybody from the freshman point guard to the team’s three seniors all turn in highly impactful performances. Okay, sold. The Sun Devils have had some rotten luck at times this season (six of their 11 losses are by two possessions or fewer), but for the most part, Herb Sendek’s team has played everybody tough while it has folded in several new players into their rotation. On Saturday afternoon in Tempe, everything came together with freshman point guard Tra Holder, JuCo transfer Savon Goodman, junior big man Eric Jacobsen and senior Bo Barnes all particularly deserving of recognition.

(Also receiving votes: California)

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The Annotated Bill Walton: Oregon, the Merry Pranksters & Phi Slama Jama

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 5th, 2015

Back by popular demand, your skeleton key into the mind of Bill Walton. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of the piece, we try to decipher what exactly the most interesting college basketball commentator in the world was talking about, as Oregon got past by Washington in Eugene last night, the most remarkable power spot on Earth. And, as always, you’ll want some musical accompaniment, so let us kindly suggest the Grateful Dead at Mac Court on the campus of the University of Oregon on a cold January day back in 1978, featuring an epic second-set jam. Start with Terrapin Station and let it ride.

After A Fun Night In Eugene, Will Dig A Little Furthur Into Bill Walton's Commentary

After A Fun Night In Eugene, Will Dig A Little Furthur Into Bill Walton’s Commentary

First half

16:36 – “I’m fired up. Today was one of the most remarkable days of my life. I saw so much, I’m just hoping it was all real. Because that was a spectacular series of events. I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”

Comment: Now that’s what you call a tease, setting up what is sure to be our storyline the rest of the night.

14:09 – Following discussion of Robert Upshaw getting kicked off the Washington team and playing with a small lineup: “I know you’re not old enough to remember that one of the great teams in the history of college basketball – two consecutive championships in the mid-60s, they happened to play at UCLA – the tallest guy on the team was 6’5”.”

Comment: Sometimes you have to clean up the facts a little bit. For sure, the 1964 UCLA national championship team famously featured no starter taller than 6’5”, with Hall of Famers Walt Hazzard and Gail Goodrich leading the way and senior center Fred Slaughter and junior forward Keith Erickson each checking in at just 6’5”. But, Doug McIntosh came off the bench at 6’7” and played 30 minutes in the title game. In 1965, he regularly started and 6’6” Edgar Lacy also became a major factor for the Bruins.

11:09 – Dave Pasch pre-commercial, teasing the next feature: “Well, coming up: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. No, it’s not Walton’s biography. A Walton’s World tribute to Ken Kesey and someone called Mountain Girl. You can’t make this stuff up.”

Walton’s World: “What a day. It started at the HDC with football and then quickly moved to the Knight Library where Voodoo Doughnuts donated $10,000 to the Ken Kesey Fund. And then, one of the original Pranksters, Ken Babbs, the rider who went to college with Ken Kesey at Stanford. The Knight Library had this fantastic collection, including this record soundtrack from Jack Nicholson. And then all the writings. Mountain Girl was there to read it. And then the Jail Journal. And then we all wound up in the Ken Kesey Classroom. And here tonight at the Matthew Knight Arena, Mountain Girl on the left, Sunshine she’s on the right, she’s Ken and Mountain Girl’s daughter. And then down underneath the basket on the other end, we have Ken Babbs. Ken Babbs, a great basketball player in his own day at Miami (Ohio), played on the same team as Wayne Embry. He’s dancing with the Duck here, he’s a great writer himself, he’s got the Last Go ‘Round novel.

Pasch: “Now wait, who is Mountain Girl?”

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Pac-12 Halfway Home Awards

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on February 4th, 2015

The calendar has been flipped to February. The Super Bowl is in the rearview mirror. And all Pac-12 teams have nine conference games in the books. It’s a nice, tidy point to recap what we’ve seen so far and take a brief look ahead as the college basketball regular season takes the main stage (really, who actually watches regular season NBA games?) and we begin the downhill run to March Madness. We’ll be reconvening in Vegas before we know it.

Player of the Midyear

He May Not Be The "Best" Player In The Conference, But He's Arguably The Most Important (Arizona Athletics)

He May Not Be the “Best” Player in the Conference, But He’s Arguably the Most Important One (Arizona Athletics)

A couple weeks back, my friend and colleague Adam Butler drew a line in the sand and argued that Stanford’s Chasson Randle and Utah’s Delon Wright were the only two options for Pac-12 Player of the Year. I read that post. I enjoyed that post. I disagreed – and continue to disagree – with that post. Don’t get me wrong. Both of those guys are very much in the conversation for the award. Both of those guys are awesome. Both of those guys are part of the reason why I love college hoops so much. And both of those guys currently take a back seat to Arizona’s T.J. McConnell in my POY calculus. Look, I get it: McConnell is not actually the best player in the Pac-12. He’s not even the best player on his team (I’d give that honor to either Rondae Hollis-Johnson or Stanley Johnson – or maybe Rondley Jeffer-Hollisson). In considering a national All-American team, I’d certainly consider Wright and Randle, while leaving McConnell’s name on the cutting room floor. But “Player of the Year”? That title is so open to interpretation. Here’s what I know: Arizona is the best team in the conference. Take away one of Jefferson, or Johnson, or Brandon Ashley or Kaleb Tarczewski, and that sentiment still stands. Take away McConnell and the whole darn thing is bound to fall apart. He is the catalyst for everything that Arizona does well. He gets the ball in the hands of the right players. He sets the defensive tone. And when the rest of the team is sleep-walking through a first half against the biggest contender to Arizona’s throne, there’s McConnell putting his team on his back and serving as a human alarm clock. He’s not the best player in his conference. He’s not the best player on his team. But at this midway point, he’s my Player of the Year front-runner.

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Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week 11

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 3rd, 2015

Each week the Pac-12 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, which typically will include a Team, Player and Newcomer of the Week, along with our weekly Power Rankings.

Team of the Week: California

Sam Singer's Three In The Closing Seconds In Seattle Gave The Golden Bears a Road Sweep (Cal Athletics)

Sam Singer’s Three In The Closing Seconds In Seattle Gave The Golden Bears a Road Sweep (Cal Athletics)

Hey, we said it last week when Arizona earned a road sweep — win a pair of games away from home and that team will be our team of the week. When you’re the Golden Bears and those wins break a six-game losing streak — the latter of which coming in a 90-88 barnburner won when a reserve sophomore guard hit an ill-advised last-second step-back three — you’re a lock for the award. And what’s more, with a home stand against the Los Angeles schools (which have combined to go 1-8 on the Pac-12 road, with that one win UCLA at USC) coming up, the Golden Bears have a chance to get something started. Don’t be surprised to look up when the calendar flips to March and see California, once left for dead in conference play, sitting squarely in the middle of the Pac.

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On the Pac-12 Networks and the Elephant in the Room

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 29th, 2015

Listen. Can we talk about the Pac-12 Networks? Now you, dear reader, like me, you love the Pac-12 Networks. You may have had another cable or satellite TV provider before the networks were announced and may have even been relatively pleased with the service they provided. But when push came to shove and these networks were live and showing exclusive Pac-12 football and basketball games, you went out of your way to dump your old provider and find a new one that offered you this network instead. There was no way in hell you were going to go through a season missing games simply because DirecTV or whoever your provider was couldn’t come to an agreement with the conference on carrying its programming. So you’ve been enjoying the hell out of it for the past three seasons, watching all the games you want to see from your favorite conference, including most recently, last week’s Arizona vs. Utah top-10 clash and last Saturday’s triple-header of conference games. So, for you and for me and other like-minded fans of the conference, this development has been nothing but good.

For Die-Hards, The Pac-12 Networks Have Been A Positive Development

For Die-Hards, The Pac-12 Networks Have Been A Positive Development

The problem is that we’re not everybody. The most recent numbers I cared to look for showed DirecTV with 20.231 million subscribers in the United States at the end of the second quarter in 2014. As you may well know, DirecTV does not carry the Pac-12 Networks. Both sides carried on negotiations about the possibility of a deal, but many years later, there’s no sign of ever getting anywhere. And there are other cable providers with similar stances, which is why you get criticism of the conference when big games – like that Arizona/Utah game – are shown only on the Pac-12 Networks. Our own Shane Connolly fired a shot across the bow when he noted on the RTC Podcast last week that he was happy that the second Utah/Arizona match-up (on February 28) will be shown on a “real channel” (namely ESPN). Ouch. And, you know what? Those criticisms are fair. In this day and age of media saturation, not having access to a channel and its games is unacceptable.

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What’s Next For Washington and Robert Upshaw?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 27th, 2015

The news broke mid-afternoon on Monday, suddenly and succinctly:

If you had told anybody with any knowledge of Robert Upshaw’s career and his ups and downs not only at Washington, but at Fresno State previously, that such a tweet would be coming in the middle of this season, it would not exactly qualify as a shocker. But, here 19 games into a largely successful 2014-15 campaign, with Upshaw the nation’s best shot-blocker, swatting away better than 17 percent of his opponents’ two-point field goal attempts while he’s on the floor, this qualifies as a surprise. The guy we knew as a troubled and troublesome 18- and 19-year-old? That guy was gone, right? Instead, we had a talented 20-year-old who, by all accounts, was putting in the hard work and making big strides on the court, a guy who had worked his way into first round consideration for next year’s NBA Draft, a guy who had transformed the soft Huskies defense into a force to be reckoned with. And now, all that is gone, presumably like a puff of smoke.

So, let’s not worry all that much about what happened: we can all read between the lines. But, what happens next? First, let’s go to the team in a team sport: Where do Lorenzo Romar and the Huskies go from here? Well, with Jernard Jarreau sidelined following arthroscopic knee surgery and out at least until the middle of February (if not longer), that leaves the Huskies with Shawn Kemp, Jr. as the only proven frontcourt player. Junior seven-footer Gilles Dierickx has earned 13 minutes in the last six games (four points, five boards in that time) and will likely be forced into additional run. But really, this puts the Huskies behind even where they were last year at this time – basically a team with four wings surrounding a center. The good news is some combination of Nigel Williams-Goss, Andrew Andrews, Mike Anderson, Darin Johnson, Donaven Dorsey and Quevyn Winters is not a terrible batch of talent to draw from. And Kemp has been playing well. But there is absolutely no depth and no room for error.

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Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week Ten

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 26th, 2015

Each week the Pac-12 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, which typically will include a Team, Player and Newcomer of the Week, along with our weekly Power Rankings.

Team of the Week: Arizona

Sometimes this stuff is pretty easy. My philosophy is that if you go on the road in the Pac-12 and come away with a pair of wins for the week, odds are good you’re going to be the Team of the Week. All of our voters this week agreed, rewarding the Wildcats for an impressive two-win trip to the Bay Area. While all the questions about this Arizona team aren’t exactly put away quite yet, we’ve definitely seen this team turn the corner and accelerate its progress since the stunning loss at Oregon State. The scary thing is that there’s still plenty of improvement to come from this bunch. Oh, and watch out, conference, because it looks like Stanley Johnson is in the middle of a tear.

Stanley Johnson and Arizona Are Beginning To Round Into Form (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

Stanley Johnson and Arizona Are Beginning To Round Into Form (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

Player of the Week: Gary Payton II, Junior, Oregon State

Back when he was doing this sort of thing in non-conference play against Corban, Mississippi Valley State and Grambling, we could be forgiven for having taken a wait-and-see approach. Now, when he’s posting full stat lines and occasional double-doubles against Power Five teams? It’s crazy, but Payton is in the conversation for all-Pac-12 consideration. And not that weird 15-person “official” All-Pac-12 team, but a legit, five-person only all-Pac-12 team. He’s already on the very short list of best defenders in the conference, with averages of three steals and a block per game. In fact, he’s third in the nation in steal percentage, which notes the rate at which he ends an opponent’s possession with a steal. Plus, at a slender 6’3”, he’s grabbing a defensive rebound 20 percent of the time that one is available to be grabbed. This week it was just more of the same. Against UCLA on Thursday he was the best player on the court, scoring 18 points, grabbing seven boards, handing out six assists and swiping five steals; and then he backed that up against USC by double-doubling: 21 points, 10 boards.

(Also receiving votes: Stanley Johnson)

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The Only Thing Standing in the Way of Arizona’s Pac-12 Coronation is Arizona

Posted by Mike Lemaire on January 24th, 2015

For the first half of Thursday night’s battle for first place in the Pac-12 against Stanford, Arizona looked like the team that could only muster 56 points in a losing effort against Oregon State. But in the second half, the Wildcats showed why there is no other team in the conference that can hang with them when they are at full strength and minimizing their mistakes. The Wildcats actually jumped out to an early lead as the Cardinal’s thin frontcourt had absolutely no answer for Brandon Ashley and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson inside. But Ashley also picked up three cheap fouls in the first 12 minutes of the game and teammate Stanley Johnson picked up two of his own, and when they left the court, things started to fall apart. Without their two biggest offensive mismatches on the floor, Arizona struggled to take advantage of its distinct size advantage and instead settled for contested jumpers. On the other end of the floor, the Wildcats’ stout defense made things difficult for Stanford, at least when they weren’t fouling Cardinal players. Stanford made 13 free throws in the first half and star guard Chasson Randle scored six of his 14 first half points from the charity stripe. As a result, a first half that any casual observer would think Arizona should have won ended with Stanford up two points.

Arizona Has the Look of a Team Figuring It Out (USA Today Images)

Arizona Has the Look of a Team Figuring It Out (USA Today Images)

Of course slow starts and early mistakes have become something of Arizona‘s modus operandi this season, and nobody expected the Wildcats to go away. Ashley and Johnson returned to the floor in the second half and immediately made an impact, combining for 10 points in the first six minutes as Arizona slowly but surely took the lead for good. Even more importantly, the Arizona defense decided to start moving its feet and quit picking up cheap fouls, and all of a sudden, their suffocating defense returned in earnest. Once Randle made a difficult layup to bring Stanford within three points with just under 10 minutes to play, the Wildcats’ put the clamps down and the Cardinal didn’t make another field goal for more than eight minutes. By that point, the game was well in hand and Arizona was on its way as the odds-on favorite to run away with the conference regular season title.

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Marching to Vegas: On Pace of Play in the Pac

Posted by Adam Butler on January 23rd, 2015

Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) of Pachoops will again be joining us all year, providing us with his weekly take on our favorite conference as we begin the March to Vegas.

Earlier this week, our very own Andrew Murawa wrote thoughtfully and critically of college basketball. BLASPHEMY. But he’s not wrong. He was sure to cite his love of the sport no matter its flaws and I’d like to note a few of the tempo-related items concerning our Pac-12. Historically it’s been a frenetic pace. During a Thursday morning Twitter conversation, I was brought to this 1988 Arizona Wildcats highlight. In it you’ll notice the Wildcats crashing the offensive glass (possessions!) and sprinting out on the break off a turnover (more possessions!). Arizona would win that game, 78-70, a point total far lower than their season average this year. In 1988, Arizona scored 84.8 point per game, 15th-best in the nation. That would be a top-five scoring total in each of the last 14 seasons.

Up-tempo Exciting Basketball Used To Be The Norm In The Pac-12

Uptempo Exciting Basketball Used To Be The Norm In The Pac-12

Of course Total Points isn’t a statistic we love to note. It bypasses many important factors and qualifiers in understanding how the game is played. Unfortunately, tempo isn’t readily available for that historical context. A Google search, however, can easily deliver a handful of articles that articulate the slowing of the game. What I really want to do, though, is look at the history of this conference. One that saw UCLA and Cal split their 1995 series by a cumulative score of 197-188. That’s two games. By comparison, Cal’s 2012 sweep of UCLA looked like this: 132-158. This is anecdotal and perhaps not indicative of the quality of those respective games; however, there’s been a shift to how the game has been played, particularly in our conference. The century mark is a jaw-dropping feat. It used to get me tacos in McKale.

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A Swing Around the Pac-12 After Five Games

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 21st, 2015

Just a collection of thoughts, compiled over the course of the past two weekends of Pac-12 play.

Arizona – This Utah game actually set up really nicely for the Wildcats. Utah was on a roll and feeling invincible despite the fact that it hadn’t beaten a good team since early December. Arizona, meanwhile, had plenty to prove amid accusations of selfishness and overratedness. The ‘Cats weathered the storm early, rode T.J. McConnell while settling in, and then turned on the juice in the second half. But, really, there are two big takeaways from this game. First, my impression all year long was that this vintage of the Wildcats does not have the high-end defensive ceiling that last year’s team had. And then, I look up on January 17 and they’ve got basically the same defensive efficiency numbers as they had last season and just finished a game where they completely shut down everything Utah wanted to do. This squad still needs to prove an ability to bring that intensity on a regular basis, but they absolutely have the ability to be just about as good defensively as last year’s team (although I still have a concern that they don’t have the type of individual stoppers that they had in Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon). Offensively, my eyes tell me this team has some problems in the half-court and that, while Stanley Johnson is clearly the team’s most talented player, Sean Miller has yet to figure out a good way to find shots for him. Then I look at the stats and I see that this team is pretty much the same offensively as last year’s group, getting similar percentages of shots from all three ranges on offense. And the best part? They’re still feeling their way around. Make no mistake, Arizona in mid-January is still a top 10 team — maybe top five — and the exciting part is that the Wildcats have enough upside that they could be significantly better by March.

With Stanley Johnson Just Beginning To Reach His Potential, Arizona's Upside Is Staggering (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

With Stanley Johnson Just Beginning To Reach His Potential, Arizona’s Upside Is Staggering. (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

Utah – The Utes lost. Bury ‘em, right? Not so fast, but we do need to have a talk about a couple of players in particular. First Jordan Loveridge, the team’s junior power small forward. What’s to complain about? In the five Pac-12 games since he returned from injury, he’s averaging better than 10 points per game and shooting at a 54.2% eFG rate, knocking in 11-of-24 shots from deep. In that same time frame, he’s taken twice as many shots from behind the arc as he has from inside; he’s attempting free throws at about a third of the rate of his field goal attempts; and he’s grabbing a rebound about every five minutes. In short, Loveridge has gone from being one of the more promising interior players in the conference to a three-point shooting specialist. That’s about all he does anymore. I understand that at 6’6” his upside at the four is limited, and if he is ever going to play in the NBA, it will be at the three. But this is college ball. And while his ability to hit the three and pull bigs away from the hoop is a useful skill, it’s only a fraction of what Loveridge could be doing for this team. For what it’s worth, I promise that this is the last time I will rip a guy with an offensive rating of 115.0 and a three-point percentage of 47.5 percent. The other guy I want to touch on briefly is Jakob Poeltl. We still like him as a player: like his skills; like his effort; like his upside. And sure, NBA scouts love him. But he really needs a lot of work, especially in the weight room. He got pushed around by the Wildcats all night long on Saturday. And if you go back and look at the results, anytime he has gone up against long interior players (San Diego State, Kansas, UNLV, Colorado, Arizona, even BYU), he has struggled. You can’t really throw the ball into him in the post because he doesn’t know what to do with it yet, so you have to rely on him to get his own miss off the glass if he’s going to have any offensive impact, and he’s not strong enough to do that on a regular basis. He’s still an important part of this Utah team, but his major leap forward probably won’t come until next year, at which time he should hopefully still be in college. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week Nine

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 19th, 2015

Each week the Pac-12 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, which typically will include a Team, Player and Newcomer of the Week, along with our weekly Power Rankings.

Team of the Week: Arizona

T.J. McConnell And The Wildcats Issued A Serious Statement In Their Win Over Utah on Saturday (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

T.J. McConnell And The Wildcats Issued A Serious Statement In Their Win Over Utah on Saturday (Rick Scuteri, AP Photo)

It was the Pac-12 game of the year to this point: surging challenger to the throne, Utah, against reeling returning champion, Arizona. Both teams took care of business in their undercard games on Thursday, but by the time the main event rolled around on Saturday evening, the McKale Center was a hornet’s nest. The challenger came out of its corner full of vim and vigor, seeking the knockout. But the veteran champion weathered the storm and turned on the power in the final three-quarters of the bout, displaying the whole package of explosive athleticism, wily game knowledge, superior conditioning and, well, a boost of energy from the home crowd. In the end, the Wildcats turned in a smothering performance, displaying their high-end defensive ability with their great offensive potential. If there were any questions about Arizona after last week’s head-scratcher against Oregon State – and trust me, there were – the Wildcats answered most of them on Saturday night in affirming their status as one of the nation’s elite.

Player of the Week: T.J. McConnell, Senior, Arizona

Five minutes into that heavyweight bout on Saturday night, the Utes were clearly acting as the aggressor. They were out to a 10-2 lead; their superstar Delon Wright was doing everything; and Arizona looked flat. Out of the under-16 media timeout, McConnell immediately made a statement play. He headed right up the court and took the undersized Brandon Taylor down to the left block where he put a jumper right on his head. Next time up and again on Taylor, he did the exact same thing on the other side of the court. Next time on the defensive end, he stripped Wright and dove on the floor to get a tie-up. All of a sudden, Arizona had some energy and belief. Through the rest of the first half, McConnell hit three more jumpers, added a layup, notched a couple assists and grabbed a steal. The most important of those plays may have been the two assists, one a driving handoff to Kaleb Tarczewski for a lay-in, and another a baseline kickout to Brandon Ashley for a jumper. Both of those plays ensured that McConnell was not only involved but was busy keeping his talented teammates involved. On the night, McConnell wound up with 16 points (12 before halftime), six assists, three boards and a steal on 8-of-10 shooting, numbers that only hint at his true impact.

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Marching to Vegas: Utah Visits Arizona With So Much on the Line

Posted by Adam Butler on January 16th, 2015

Effort is one of those intangible things that we scream about from the couch. It’s not really something you can quantify but it’s something everyone notices. It’s ugly when it’s not there and it’s endearing when it’s there without results. The desired confluence is when effort meets talent. [insert Wooden quote here]. Because when ‘good’ couples itself with ‘try’, anything is possible. Special happens. But when ‘try’ doesn’t align with the talent component, well, sometimes you lose to Oregon State and coach Sean Miller rails his Arizona team publicly and what we can only assume is privately. Practice was more than likely hellacious these past few days in Tucson.

Sean Miller Was Not All Smiles This Week

Sean Miller Was Not All Smiles This Week

Last night, those frustrations or adjustments manifested as the Wildcats beat a hobbled Colorado team. From that game’s “effort” I think we learned nothing. Colorado was missing their heart, soul, and able bodies. Dead men walking. Arizona did little more than take care of business at home. Effort, as it were, was incalculable and perhaps irrelevant in dismissing the Buffs to Tempe; a game, it would seem, for which Colorado is saving its bullets. Arizona held a 21-11 rebounding advantage at the half. Askia Booker converted to his alter ego, As-three-a Booker, to keep them in the game. But enough on Thursday night.

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