Wildcats

We’ve spent the last few weeks looking back at the past semester and past year in high school sports, but this week we turn our attention to the University of Arizona. 2016 was an interesting year for the various Wildcat teams. 

No team had a bigger year than the Wildcat baseball team. The Wildcats had a stellar season under first-year head coach Jay Johnson. Even those close to the team thought it would likely be a re-building season and just getting to the NCAA Tournament would be a great accomplishment. 

The Wildcats were not only in the postseason, but were just one win away from winning the College World Series, coming up a run short against Coastal Carolina in a winner-take-all final game. Despite coming up just short, it was a fantastic season and the start of something great as the Wildcats have added a terrific recruiting class to bolster the team in year two for Johnson. 

Another first year coach making a big impact is Adia Barnes. The former Wildcat standout returns to Tucson with a big rebuilding job ahead of her. Barnes inherits a program that has not only had just one winning record since 2009, but has won less than 15 games six times in eight seasons. 

Barnes saw her squad go 9-2 in the nonconference season, and while they will likely come back down to earth in conference play, the future is indeed bright for the women’s basketball program. 

The Wildcat football team had a terrible season, going just 3-9. There were a number of reasons for the team’s struggles. A rash of injuries took their toll on the Cats, though most in and outside of the program believed it was going to be a rebuilding season. Rich Rodriguez not only rebuilt his entire defensive staff, but the team lacked overall depth on that side of the ball. 

The real issue was on offense. The Wildcats were gutted at both running back and quarterback early in the season and the offense suffered. As the offense scuffled, and it put more pressure on an already weak defensive unit.

The Wildcats’ offense is predicated with being able to run. The read option run is what opens up the passing game. After Arizona lost Nick Wilson and JJ Taylor to injury and Orlando Bradford was dismissed from the program with legal troubles, they essentially lost the ability to run the football. Quarterback Brandon Dawkins made big plays with his legs, but the bulk of those came on broken plays or scrambles. Things got so bad at running back that Arizona had to convert not one, but two wide receivers to running back.

If that was not enough, the Wildcats had health issues at quarterback. After a lackluster first game, Anu Solomon was lost for half the season with a knee injury and made just one start the rest of the season, never looking like himself. Following the season, the junior signal caller, who led the Wildcats to the 2014 Fiesta Bowl, announced his decision to transfer. Dawkins, who started the bulk of the games, also battled injuries and that forced the Wildcats to pull true freshman Khalil Tate out of his redshirt. 

The defense was never going to be good, even though they showed signs early in the year of being competent But that went out the window once the offense started to struggle. Without the offense controlling the time of possession and putting point on the board, it put even more pressure on the defense. They were left on the field for more and more plays, which exposed their weaknesses for longer durations. Once injuries took their toll, it was over for the defense and for the team as a whole. 

They finished the season with a big, one-sided win over rival ASU. Fans looking for hope for the future remember that against Washington, the Wildcats were at nearly full strength and took the No. 4 Huskies to overtime. 

While the 2016 NCAA Tournament did not go Arizona’s way, this season is starting to look like it could be a terrific one. There has been turmoil certainly—blue chip recruit Terrence Ferguson had eligibility issues and bolted for an Australian pro league. Two players were lost for the year with knee injuries and Allonzo Trier has run into his own eligibility issues that have kept him off the floor. If that was not enough, Arizona has dealt with injuries or suspensions to three other players. Through it all, the Wildcats have opened the season at 11-2, with their two losses coming against 11-1 Butler and 12-0 Gonzaga. 

If Arizona gets Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Trier back, they join Oregon and UCLA in becoming legitimate Final Four contenders in the Pac-12. Even with just Jackson-Cartwright, who has been recovering from a high ankle sprain, the Wildcats look like a dangerous team.

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