As the 12,758 filed out of the McKale Center on Friday, they were unusually quiet. There were a multitude of reasons for that, which we will delve into on the link, but one was articulated by a fan who walked behind me. "You can forget about the streak," he said. What the septuagenarian fan – I looked and he was part of the Cats' "experienced" group of supporters – was alluding to was a streak of NCAA Tournament appearance that started 25 years ago, or about when the fan was my age. After WSU's hard-fought 78-86 win, this Wildcat booster was jumping ship. But he probably shouldn't. Read on.
• Washington State: Why not, you may rightly ask, what with UA 7-8 overall and 1-2 in the Pac-10 Conference? Because this conference season will be as weird and wacky as it comes. If Oregon State can turn itself around there is a possibility everyone could finish 9-9 (and yes, I'm exaggerating, but just for effect). Really though, most teams are so young, a great win could very easily be followed by a stunning loss. A sparkling half by a stinker of one. A superb play by an unthinkable turnover. As WSU coach Ken Bone said before conference play started, the Pac-10 isn't as much down and it is young. There's a possibility the winner of the conference tournament – and that could be Arizona as much as anyone – could be the lone rep in the NCAAs. A remote possibility, sure, but it's there. So don't give up hope UA, or OSU or UW fans. This year could still end in the NCAA tourney. ... Now back to the game links (we'll have thoughts below). ... We had our gamer in the paper and here on the blog. ... Freelancer Howie Stalwick filed this piece for the Tacoma News Tribune and other papers. ... The Arizona Daily Star had three reporters at the game – maybe more, but I recognized three – and filed this really complete report, including Greg Hansen's column, a gamer and a DeAngelo Casto sidebar. ... That's it out of Tucson, except our thoughts and more quotes at the end of this post.
• Around the Pac-10: Wow, how far have the Huskies fallen? A 17-point loss in Wells Fargo Arena to an Arizona State team that sleepwalked through Los Angeles last weekend really hurts. It also ensures the Pac-10 will have zero – nada, none, zilch – ranked teams in next week's poll. Pardon me. If UCLA wins at Stanford tonight, some folks in the East might vote for the Bruins out of habit (I kid, of course). ... By the way, there were 7,682 at that game, not what you would call a huge crowd. ... The other game tonight pits USC, the positive surprise of the first weekend, and Cal, the negative surprise of last Wednesday, when the Bears lost at home to UCLA. The Trojans are having a bad week – think my UCLA-grad sister didn't call yesterday to gloat? Think again – in more ways than one. ... The worst way, of course, is the news football coach Pete Carroll is running down the ropes to the dock, leaving the ship as the NCAA enforcers poke holes below the water line. ... If Carroll does take the Seahawks' job, and that looks pretty certain this morning, where does that leave fans of Washington and Oregon State? At least a bit worried I bet.
• OK, back to the Cougar game. Freshman Derrick Williams has been a force inside for Arizona this season, scoring 15 points a game and grabbing nearly seven rebounds. So part of the WSU game plan was to attack the 6-foot-8, 235-pound post player. It worked. But not at first. Casto, working inside on Williams, turned the ball over on the game's opening possession. And on the second, earning an offensive foul. But he and the Cougars kept up the pressure and Williams started to feel it, picking up two fouls in the first 11 minutes, 19 seconds. Still, UA coach Sean Miller gambled and kept him on the floor in the first half. Williams showed why on two possessions late in the half, following a Kyle Fogg miss with a one-hand, thundering dunk to tie the score at 25, then getting free on the next time down for another powerful jam, putting UA on top 27-25, the Wildcats first lead. But Williams picked up an early second-half foul on a Reggie Moore drive and had to sit. He came back 4 minutes later and played 3 minutes before getting a fourth. He set for 2 minutes, returned, played less than 2 more and fouled out. His final line: 13 points on 4 for 4 from the field and 5 of 8 from the line, six rebounds, two turnovers and two blocks. ... Another Arizona player who didn't have his best game was Nic Wise. Not only did Moore do a good job exposing him on the defensive end, Marcus Capers kept the senior guard in check on offense. Wise finished with a team-high 15 points was just 5 of 14 from the floor, 1 of 5 from beyond the arc – UA was 7 of 20 as a team. ... Wise and Fogg split eight of the Wildcats' 14 assists. Klay Thompson led WSU with four while Moore added three. ... One area WSU dominated, and I will ask Bone about today, was rebounding. The Cougars, led by Casto's nine, Thompson's eight and Nik Koprivica's seven, had a 35-26 edge on the Wildcats. Nothing new for UA, though, as it has been outrebounded by two a game. A big part of the Cats' problem stems from an inability to guard penetration, forcing bigs to help and leaving lanes open to the offensive glass. WSU had 12 offensive rebounds, six by Casto. ... Though Koprivica didn't have his best game, with four turnovers and a first appearance that lasted less than 2 minutes, the senior came up big when the Cougars really needed it. After UA had whittled the lead to four with less than 3 minutes left, WSU worked the shot clock to its nubbins before Koprivica rose up from the left wing and buried a 3 as the buzzer sounded, giving the Cougars a 74-67 lead with 2:21 left. It was just enough. ... Finally, the Cougars caught a huge break as the Arizona students were still on break. Though the band showed up and played on, the usual bunch of crazies under the north hoop was absent, and it showed. McKale wasn't nearly as loud as it's been and UA's runs weren't met with as much enthusiasm as usual.
• Bone on Koprivica: "Nik's a senior. He's confident. He might have a bad game or two, but in the end he's going to make plays to help us win."
• On UA causing problems with its defense in the first half: "Arizona's man pressure can be extremely good. They are quick, strong and athletic and they can really get at you. They really took us out of our rhythm in the first half – especially in the last six minutes." The halftime adjustment? "We tried to catch the ball a little closer to the arc."
• Bone on Williams fouling out: "I think after he fouled out, they actually outscored us there until the end (by two). You know, he's a great player but they have some other good guys too."
• Casto on being asked to win the game at the end: "On those plays they're not asking me to do anything. They are asking Reggie or Klay to penetrate. I'm not really on people's radar to watch on those plays so they kind of leave me to the side. I have to take the opportunities and try to take advantage of them."
• Moore on a turnover with 41.7 seconds left, trying to hit Casto after Wise had switched on him: "Sometimes I throw some tricky passes and that falls on me." The difference 41.6 seconds later? "This time I made sure to get it to him."
• That's it for this morning. We'll be back as events warrant. Until then …