In this time of pandemic and a self-imposed post-season ban (not to mention the still-detectable whiff of Major Disappointment at the Nico Mannion Season that landed with a thud), this year’s University of Arizona men’s basketball team is the least-talked-about Wildcat squad in nearly four decades.
Having lost all five starters from last year’s team (have I mentioned what a disappointment that squad was?), the Cats have had to start from scratch. A win over visiting Oregon State last week put the Cats at a very-healthy 14-6, overall. But they’re only 8-6 in conference play and face a brutal road trip to face the top two teams in the standings, USC and UCLA, respectively. The fact that they played a truncated non-conference schedule and will not be participating in postseason play (in hopes of keeping the NCAA’s Silver Hammer from crushing the next couple seasons, as well) will keep Arizona from winning 20 games for only the third time in almost 40 years.
What’s weird is that they already have three home conference losses. They got run off the McKale floor in a second-half onslaught from USC, lost a close one to UCLA and then absolutely self-destructed in the final five minutes against Stanford, blowing a comfortable lead before losing by nine. Then there’s the legendary game at Colorado a couple weeks back. Arizona fell behind 19-2, but came all the way back to take the lead. They were up three with a minute to go, but got outscored 6-0 in the final minute and lost.
Anyway, while we’re all focused on vaccinations and trying to catch a glimpse of normalcy off in the distance, it’s understandable that this year’s Wildcat basketball season is not like the others. (Plus, the UA women are better and so much more fun to watch.) But the men’s team is doing better than expected and they have some players that could make up a national contender if they stick around for a couple years. (There don’t appear to be any Mannion-style one-and-dones on the roster.)
Except for the fact that a couple of them are seven feet tall and most of them are freakishly athletic-looking, unlike in other years, these guys could walk down the street in Tucson and not get recognized. That’s what will make taking this quiz so much fun. If you can get even three out of five, you may be the GREATEST WILDCAT FAN EVER!!!
Here we go:
1. In his entire coaching career (including 11 years at Arizona), Sean Miller has been to the Final Four the same number of times as:
a. Vadal Peterson
b. Forrest Twogood
c. Jack Friel
d. All of the coaches in the history of ASU, combined
2. True or False: The UA has a guy on the roster from Tibet whose first name is Turkey.
3. Three of the players on the UA roster come from places where French is an official (and dominant) language. The injured Daniel Batcho is from France. Where are the other two from?
a. Ivory Coast and Belgium
b. Cameroon and Montreal
c. Chad and Switzerland
d. Senegal and Luxembourg
4. A highly touted Freshman is named for a legendary Wildcat player. Who is it?
a. Simon Miles
b. Walton Goggins
c. Kerr Kriisa
d. Stoudamire Washewski
5. Seven of the 13 Wildcat players on scholarship are from countries other than the United States. They hail from (in alphabetical order) Cameroon, Canada, Estonia, France, Lithuania (two players), and Turkey. WITHOUT LOOKING IT UP ON A MAP, which of those two countries are closest to each other (separated by only one other country)?
1. d. Friel coached Washington State to the Final Four in 1941 and Twogood guided USC in 1954. Peterson is my favorite. He coached the 1944 Utah Utes to the national championship, using a Japanese-American, Wataru Misaka (who might otherwise have been in an internment camp), as his point guard. Misaka later served in the military, returned to lead Utah to the 1947 NIT championship, then got drafted by the New York Knicks, becoming the first non-white player in the NBA.
Miller has never been to the Final Four and neither has ASU. Ever.
2. That’s false. But they do have a guy from Turkey whose first name is Tibet.
3. b. Christian Koloko is from Cameroon and Bennedict Mathurin is from Montreal
4. c. Kerr Kriisa’s dad admired Steve Kerr’s NBA career as a player and then a coach. It wasn’t until Sean Miller started the recruiting process that the young player learned the man for whom he was named had been a Wildcat. That’s the ultimate deal sealer.
5. Lithuania (home of Azuolas and Tautvilas Tubelis) and Estonia (Kerr Kriisa), two of the former Soviet Socialist Republics, are separated only by Latvia.
EXTRA POINTS: Longtime Tucson High soccer coach Ismael Arce passed away from COVID-19. He was only 51. Arce coached the 2014 Badger team to the Division II State championship, the first state title in any sport for Tucson High since 1988. That team went a stellar 24-0-3. Arce had also been a social studies teacher for nearly 20 years at Tucson High…The UA women’s softball team was supposed to open its season last week in Texas, but the Lone Star State got hit with an ice storm (the one that caused that horrific 100-vehicle pileup in Fort Worth). Even though Arizona—which has eight national championships--might have its best team EVER, the Cats are only ranked third in the preseason national poll, behind conference foes UCLA and Washington…One of the stranger events in the strangest of all seasons happened in the Sahuaro-Marana girls’ basketball game. With Sahuaro holding a big lead at halftime, Cougar officials received word that someone at Catalina Foothills (Sahuaro’s previous opponent) had tested positive for COVID. The game was called and the three teams involved were forced to cancel a combined 12 future games.