#rushthetrip: Wrapping Up 12 Games, 17 Days and 5,476 Miles on the Road

Posted by Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) on February 25th, 2014

RTC columnist Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is looking for the spirit of college basketball as he works his way on a two-week tour of various venues around the West. For more about his trip, including his itinerary and previous stops on his journey, check out the complete series here.

They say that all good things must come to an end, and so is the case for my 17-day journey through college basketball’s Western lands. Large cities and small towns alike took turns as temporary homes, while the miles of passing scenery morphed from desert to snowy mountains and back to desert again, with plenty of change in between. The whirlwind ride reinforced the breadth of variety in the towns, arenas, and fan bases that stand behind Divison I’s basketball programs — only further mythologizing the notion of a “typical college town.” They make you work out West (note to future college basketball road trippers: the Heartland will be far kinder to your car’s odometer), but the payoff was worth every exhausting mile. By the numbers and some personal favorites, here’s the story of my trip.

Opening Night Was The Highlight Of This Trip, When The Pit Proved Worthy Of It's Elevated Standing Among The Home Floors Of College Hoops

Opening Night Was The Highlight Of This Trip, When The Pit Proved Worthy Of It’s Elevated Standing Among The Home Floors Of College Hoops

#rushthetrip, By The Numbers

  • Days: 17
  • States: 10
  • Games: 12
  • OT Games: 3
  • Miles Driven: 5,476
  • Distance from Tucson, AZ, to Spokane, WA: 1,494 miles
  • Tickets Received: 2
  • Biggest Arena: BYU (capacity of 20,900, sixth in D-I)
  • Smallest Arena: Sacramento State (capacity of 1,200, 348th in D-I)
  • Most Points (Individual): Stephen Madison, 42 (Idaho)
  • Smallest Margin Of Victory: 1, Boise State over New Mexico
  • Largest Margin Of Victory: 15, Gonzaga over Pepperdine
  • Best Team (by KenPom ranking): Arizona (#1)
  • Worst Team (by KenPom ranking): Southern Utah (#351)

#rushthetrip Favorites

Best Venues

  1. The Pit, Albuquerque, NM
  2. Marriott Center, Provo, UT
  3. McKale Center, Tucson, AZ

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#rushthetrip Day Two: Exhilaration and Apprehension as McKale Center Watches Cats Escape

Posted by Bennet Hayes on February 7th, 2014

RTC columnist Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is looking for the spirit of college basketball as he works his way on a two-week tour of various venues around the West. For more about his trip, including his itinerary and previous stops on his journey, check out the complete series here.

West of Lawrence, Kansas, there may be no better home court than either of the two I visited to start this trip. The folks at UCLA, Gonzaga and Utah State might all have reasonable gripes (especially Bruins fans) with that assertion, but back-to-back nights at The Pit and McKale Center is about as good as college basketball can get. Some 450 miles separate the two universities, so six hours of driving (which included a successful journey through Truth or Consequences, New Mexico) brought me to Tucson to watch Arizona host Oregon.

There's No Doubt About It -- Arizona's McKale Center Is One Of College Hoops' Grandest Stages

There’s No Doubt About It — Arizona’s McKale Center Is One Of College Hoops’ Grandest Stages

The obvious storyline entering last night’s game was how the Wildcats would bounce back from not only their first loss of the season, but also the season-ending injury suffered last weekend by Brandon Ashley. Not surprisingly, the hoops-savvy McKale faithful were keyed in on Ashley’s absence (and its impact) throughout the evening. It began in pregame warmups, when Ashley’s crutch-waving at midcourt fomented the student section into a moderate frenzy, and continued when his replacement in the starting lineup, freshman Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, received the loudest ovation of any Wildcat during introductions.

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Pac-12 Burning Question: Arizona or UCLA?

Posted by AMurawa on January 24th, 2013

While this may not be the first of two that will decide the conference race as we postulated in the preseason, tonight we are still looking forward to our first UCLA/Arizona game of the year, with a pair of highly-touted freshman classes — not to mention host of talented veterans — clashing for the first time. And, we can barely contain our excitement. So, let’s get right to the point.

“Arizona/UCLA, Part I tips off Thursday night. Who’s going to win, and why?”

Adam Butler: Arizona and UCLA has been the premier rivalry on the West Coast for the better part of three decades now. I love the statistic that between 1984 and 2008, 19 of 30 conference championship banners hung in McKale or Pauley. That’s impressive. And then it’s also very well-documented how each of these programs has faltered recently. But it would appear they are now back(ish). Arizona is undoubtedly on the up-and-up and is poised to be around for a long time. UCLA is a team with parts that scare Frank Haith almost as much as the NCAA. ESPN cast this match-up for a Gameday appearance before the season even started and will be in attendance when the Wildcats head to Pauley in March (as will I). So when the Bruins and Wildcats tip in Tucson Thursday night, there will be no shortage of storylines or intrigue. The question will center on whether the Bruins’ short bench can hang with Arizona’s depth? Can Travis Wear continue to shoot at the level he’s been connecting on in conference play (59%)? Is Jordan Adams showing us who Jordan Adams really is or just slumping? Per usual, Arizona is going to force a lot of threes and deep jumpers. But UCLA has shot well and often from this distance. They take 48% of their shots in the form of two-point jumpers and make them at a 43% clip, 12th and fifth by national ranking, respectively. Could that haunt the Wildcats? I ultimately think Arizona has too many weapons for the Bruins to combat. Mark Lyons will be able to expose Drew2 and there are too many dynamic athletes defensively, for Arizona to not slow Travis Wear. The grand equalizer, as it always has been against the Wildcats, is the three-pointer. But considering a raucous McKale and the Bruins’ general mediocrity in hitting that shot (35%), I’m picking Sean Miller to beat UCLA for the sixth time in his nine tries.

The McKale Will Be Jumping Thursday Night, Providing Yet Another Boost For The Wildcats (Willy Low, AP Photo)

The McKale Will Be Jumping Thursday Night, Providing Yet Another Boost For The Wildcats (Willy Low, AP Photo)

Connor Pelton: Arizona will win this one because of two reasons. Most importantly, while the Wildcats are a turnover-prone team, they take care of the ball in big games. Only 10 turnovers against Florida, eight against San Diego State, and nine against Arizona State keyed huge wins for Zona, and the increased production also resulted in bigger scoring outputs from primary ball-handler Mark Lyons. With the number of play-makers on the UCLA side, giving the Bruins too many extra possessions will be costly. Not as important but still a big factor for a possible UA win is the McKale effect. UCLA hasn’t won in Tucson since the 2007-08 season, and the Wildcats haven’t dropped a game there all year. It’ll be the annual White-Out game, which traditionally brings the biggest crowd of the season, and as Florida, Colorado, and Utah proved, you don’t want to have to operate your offense late with the Zona Zoo rattling your brain. Give me the Wildcats in a close one.

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Pac-12 Weekly Honors: Week Five

Posted by AMurawa on December 17th, 2012

There wasn’t a ton of discussion about the selections for this week’s honors. Anyone who was near a television or inside the McKale Center on Saturday night had a good idea where these things were going. So, without further ado, let’s get to celebrating the Wildcats.

Team of the Week – Arizona

For the third consecutive week, the Wildcats earn our team of the week honor, this time in unanimous fashion with no other possibilities even discussed. It wasn’t always pretty, but Arizona defended its home court and the Pac-12’s honor on Saturday night, coming back from as many as 11 down in the second half against Florida to take its first lead since very early in the game in the final seconds. They forced three turnovers in the final 61 seconds and erased a six-point deficit in that span to pull out a one-point home win and establish themselves as legitimate factors in the national conversation. There were plenty of bumps along the way, but the Wildcats hung tough throughout, limiting turnovers against a disruptive Gator defense, finishing both halves incredibly strong (they outscored UF by a combined 15-0 in the final two minutes of both halves), and showing that even without that traditional point guard, they’ve got enough savvy leadership on this team to get by. And, the scary thing is, their trio of freshman bigs combined to shoot just 4-of-10 from the field for nine points with nine rebounds mixed in there. In other words, there is still plenty of room for improvement with this squad.

Mark Lyons' Game-Winner In the Closing Moments Lifted Arizona To A Thrilling Win Over Florida (Mike Christy, Arizona Daily Star)

Mark Lyons’ Game-Winner In the Closing Moments Lifted Arizona To A Thrilling Win Over Florida (Mike Christy, Arizona Daily Star)

Player of the Week – Mark Lyons, Arizona

Like those freshman bigs, Lyons is still a work in progress in his current role. There were some occasional bad decisions Saturday night that made you want to say, um, Arizona, about that point guard thing… but, that’s the thing; they were very occasional. And, when all the chips were down, Lyons took the outcome upon himself and hit a great runner over the Gators’ Patric Young to win the game. You could make arguments for Solomon Hill or Nick Johnson as the best player on the floor for the Wildcats on Saturday night, but in a game where the team fought and scrapped and clawed its way to have a chance to win in the closing moments, it was Lyons who came up large and sent the partisan crowd home happy.

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Arizona Week: State of the Program Address

Posted by AMurawa on June 30th, 2012

We been all around the Arizona basketball program this week, but we’ve got one last post to go, the one in which we step way back and look at the big picture of the program, not just looking at what the next season holds, but the overall trajectory of the program. Given the stunning success the program enjoyed under legendary head coach Lute Olson, it is no secret that the last few years have been sub-par. Two NCAA Tournaments missed in the last three years is especially galling to a program that ran off 25 straight appearances, but that’s in the past now. What should – and what will –  the next decade or more of Arizona basketball look like?

Arizona

Following Lute Olson’s Unprecedented Run Of Success In Tucson, The Expectations In Tucson Will Always Be High

Prior to Lute Olson, Wildcat basketball was an afterthought on the national scene. But after 11 Pac-10 titles in 25 years, with 11 Sweet 16s, four Final Fours and a national title mixed in there, Arizona is without a doubt an elite program, a solid #2 program in their conference (for evidence of how strong a program Arizona is, watch some of their fans take offense at being referred to as the #2 program in the conference). Olson established Tucson as a legitimate landing spot for elite recruits from around the country. Further, upgrades to the basketball facilities which began under Olson have continued under new head coach Sean Miller. Between the McKale Center and the Richard Jefferson Gym, the Wildcats enjoy excellent facilities, even if the 41-year old McKale is no longer exactly state-of-the-art, a fact more than made up for by the consistent fan support that building houses.

As for Olson’s replacement, despite the two missed NCAA tourneys in Miller’s first three seasons, the new head man has a history of success, taking Xavier to four tournament appearances in his five seasons there, including two Sweet 16s. And the Elite Eight run in his one NCAA appearance at UA has not only earned him time, but it has earned him the confidence of his fanbase and the trust of recruits, who saw Derrick Williams rise from an afterthought as a recruit to the second overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. In short, Miller has credibility not only for those close to the UA program, but for the recruits who he’ll need to entice to the desert to get the ‘Cats back to their perch atop the Pac-12.

And really, those are the rightful expectations for the Arizona program: consistently competing for and winning conference titles, regularly advancing deep into the NCAA Tournament and occasionally landing in the Final Four. A national title every decade or two wouldn’t hurt either. Lute Olson set a high bar for the program, and while his run of success is the exception, rather than the rule, over the long arc of the program, it is, for better or worse, the standard for the modern-era of Arizona basketball. Basketball fans around the nation expect the Arizona program to be an unfailing national force, playing ridiculously tough regular season schedules, making NCAA Tournaments annually, pipelining players to the NBA. It is a realistic goal for the program because it has been done before. And barring a major change in culture, that is the expectation for all future head coaches at UA. There will likely be coaches in the future who are not up to that challenge, just as UCLA, Kentucky and North Carolina, for instance, have made missteps in hiring for the head seat. And the leash that those coaches get will not always be long. But, forever and anon, the expectations in Tucson will be vast. As they should be.

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Pac-12 Morning Five: 01.24.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on January 24th, 2012

  1. ESPN’s GameDay is on its way to the McKale Center on Saturday for the first time ever to whoop the home crowd into a frenzy in advance of the Washington/Arizona matchup Saturday evening.  But of more importance to Wildcat fans is how, or if, this team currently stuck at sixth place in the conference can turn things around. However, with three losses already, including a missed opportunity this weekend against Colorado, and arguably the two toughest road trips (to the Bay Area and to Washington) remaining on the schedule, maybe it is time for UA fans to back off the expectations of an NCAA Tournament trip that had until recently seemed to be their birthright.
  2. Utah got its second win of the conference season this weekend, knocking off Arizona State on Saturday, and in the wake of the dismissal of senior point guard Josh Watkins, this could be a perfect example of addition by subtraction. In booting Watkins, head coach Larry Krystkowiak loses his leading scorer and biggest offensive threat, but he also cleared minutes for some of the younger players on this squad around whom he’ll need to build future editions of the Utah basketball team. As an added bonus, he showed the rest of his players that there are negative consequences for bad behavior under his reign.
  3. Sticking in Salt Lake City, junior center Jason Washburn has earned a starting spot and the most minutes in his career with the Utes, but despite leading his team in scoring, rebounding, blocks, field goal percentage and free throw percentage, he is still inconsistent. Krystkowiak says he is prone to “disappear and not demand the ball” and that he doesn’t “run the floor consistently.” With Watkins gone, Krystkowiak needs the veteran to step up and become a team leader capable of providing a good example for his younger teammates.
  4. In an announcement that took exactly no one by surprise, Washington State’s Faisal Aden was named the Pac-12 Player of the Week on Monday, a sentiment we shared. But Aden wasn’t the only Cougar who lent a big hand in the WSU sweep of the Bay Area schools this weekend; senior guard Abe Lodwick knocked down a couple threes early in the second half to spark the Cougars, plus helped out off of the ball and can be an important complementary piece for Ken Bone’s club the rest of the way.
  5. Oregon and Oregon State will renew the basketball version of the Civil War rivalry on Sunday in their 336th all-time meeting, but in the interim, both teams have a chance to rest up and patch their bones a little bit. Both teams are coming off home sweeps of the Los Angeles area schools, and the Ducks in particular, are in good shape, tied atop the conference with California. The game will be held in Eugene at Matthew Knight Arena, where head coach Dana Altman says the crowd was “unbelievable” in helping to propel the Ducks to a big come-from-behind second half run to beat UCLA on Saturday.
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Pac-12 After the Buzzer: Panic in Tucson?

Posted by Connor Pelton on October 28th, 2011

The Lede.  In the “Did that just happen” category, we have the Seattle Pacific Falcons, who promptly marched into the McKale Center on Thursday night and stunned the Arizona Wildcats, 69-68, in the first Pac-12 exhibition game of the season. This wasn’t your usual “LeMoyne over Syracuse” upset, where a D-II team gets very lucky and catches multiple breaks. The Falcons came in with an excellent game plan, executed it to perfection, and just flat out-played the Cats for 40 minutes. SPU understandably came out tight, with the Wildcats scoring the first six points of the game and the Falcons not making a basket until Jobi Wall put home a three two and a half minutes in. From there until the final ten minutes of the SECOND half, it was all Falcons, building up a thirteen-point advantage that they would hold on to for most of the game.

Get 'Em Out of Your System Now, Coach... (credit: Az Republic/D. Kadlubowski)

Arizona would finally regain the lead at 63-61 with 4:03 left, but Wall put the Falcons back on top with a layup two minutes later. The last minute of the game was absolute nuts, beginning with Arizona’s Solomon Hill bringing the Cats to within three with a free throw with 23 seconds remaining. After an SPU miss on the free throw line, Arizona pulled within one on a layup with five seconds to go. The inbounds pass would then be intercepted at half court, but a desperation three at the buzzer by the freshman Nick Johnson would fall short, clinching the surprising one-point victory for the Falcons.
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ATB: Pac-10 It In Saturday

Posted by rtmsf on November 18th, 2007

ATB v.4

11.17.07

Story of the Day. Siena 79, Stanford 67. We should have known better. Really, we should have. As soon as we started thinking that Stanford was a legit power again, given the way they mowed through their first four opponents with ease (without Brook Lopez, remember), they go and drop a game at Siena. For chrissakes, we even put the Cardinal #12 in our latest blogpoll ballot. This continues a disturbing trend of Trent Johnson teams to inexplicably drop ugly pre-conference games to a mid-major or worse (last year: Air force by 34; Santa Clara by 16; two years ago: Montana by 19, UC Davis by 6). Ugh. So what happened today? The 1pm EST start time probably didn’t help the Cardinal, but the time-change excuse only goes so far (they played and won in Chicago on Thurs. night). It appears from the stats that poor shooting (37%), especially from lead guard Anthony Goods (2-12) contributed, but an insane 32 to 3 FT attempt disparity suggests a little home cookin’ and/or aggressiveness in favor of the home team. In any case, it’s yet another reason to wonder whether the Cardinal under TJ will ever have the toughness to gut out games like this outside of Pac-10 arenas (in Johnson’s tenure, Stanford typically does fine in the Pac-10 schedule then flames out badly in March). The positive takeaway from this game is that we believe this is the first RTC of the new season. Enjoy.

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Other Games Today. Louisville 104, Hartford 69. Terrence Williams was astonishing tonight in Louisville’s opening game. He put up a trip-dub (14/12/13 assts, barely missing the quad-dub with 8 turnovers) as the Cardinals tallied seven players in double figures and made a school-record 22 threes (with just 13 misses). It’s just the first game, we realize, but Louisville appears to have all the pieces in place to make a phenomenal run this year, so long as they can avoid their annual bugaboo of injuries. We can’t wait for that matchup with Carolina later this month in the LV Invitational (assuming the Heels can handle ODU). Virginia 75, Arizona 72. In another tough loss today for the Pac-10, Virginia went into Tucson and delivered another blow to the aura of invincibility of the McKale Center, handing Arizona its fifth loss in the last seven games there. Sean Singletary led the way for the Wahoos (24/8 assts) while battling flu-like symptoms, and it was his jumper with 39 seconds left that was the clincher. This and the Stanford upset really hurt the Pac-10′s early-season cred as the best conference. George Mason 67, Dayton 56. This is the kind of win the committee will want to see on GMU’s resume next March. Will Thomas had a nasty game (18/17) and the team as a whole went 21-21 from the line. Florida 88, Rutgers 63. The Gators continue to look impressive at home, but then again, so did Stanford until today. Mareese Speights had 18/12 in the blowout win over a bottom-feeder Big East team. USC 85, South Carolina 75. Speaking of bottom-feeders, South Carolina got Hackett-ed by USC, as the non-OJ Mayo guard for the Trojans had a trip-dub as well (22/10/10 assts). No word on whether OJ wanted to deck him again (he had 29/4/4 assts, btw). The Dave Odom death knell watch continues…

Other Upsets. Cleveland St. 69, Florida St. 66. Well, it wasn’t all peachy for the ACC today. FSU resurrected its bad habit of losing to bad teams. Amazingly, that’s only the second nonconference loss for the ACC so far this year (23-2). Monmouth 59, Wichita St. 50. Gregg Marshall’s start at Wichita hasn’t been very promising thus far (1-2 with the other loss to Baylor). Alaska-Fairbanks 62, Oregon St. 60. And we save the best upset of the day for last – another Pac-10 team losing, but this is worse because the Beavers were beaten by a D2 team – the host of the Top of the World Classic. How utterly embarrassing.

Ranked Teams.
#9 Oregon 86, Portland 61. Hairston (24), Leunen (17) & Porter (15) roll.
#15 Gonzaga 84, UC Riverside 48. Zags continue to dominate w/o Heytvelt.
#24 S. Illinois 88, N. Illinois 68. Only 7 for Falker and still no problem.

Line of the Night. Michael Beasley (Kansas St.). Let’s just start penciling him in here every time he plays. 28/22 in a 13-pt win over W. Illinois.

On Tap Today (all times EST). A light Sunday schedule, but we really have our eyes on that 5pm game.

  • Louisville (NL) v. Jackson St. (ESPN FC) 1:30pm – can UL be as impressive as today?
  • Charleston (NL) v. Houston (ESPNU) 1:30pm - interesting early afternoon game.
  • Clemson (-12.5) v. Old Dominion 2pm – upset alert! Clemson could be looking past ODU here after its win v. Miss St.
  • Villanova (NL) v. Bucknell 5pm – Jay Wright goes up against his old team.
  • Arkansas (-7.5) v. VCU (ESPNU) 5pm – best game of the day – Maynor v. Beverly.
  • Georgia Tech (-3) v. Winthrop 6pm – upset alert! Ga Tech is so hit-and-miss these days.
  • UNC (-34) v. Iona (ESPNU) 6pm – this game could get extremely ugly.
  • Miami (FL) (-1) v. Providence (ESPN2) 7:30pm - championship of PR Shootout.
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