March 13th, 2003. In the first round of the newly reinstated Pac-10 Tournament at Staples Center, Steve Lavin pulled off one last shocker: a 96-87 win over #1 Arizona. That win was the one that got them to double digits on the year, and when their season ended the next night against the Oregon Ducks, there was no doubt about Lavin's fate. With a losing season, the first for the program in 55 years, it was safe to say that whatever expectations were for that 2003 season, they were not met.
A lot has happened in the nearly ten years since then. A lot of great wins, a few Final Fours, a title game appearance, and many great kids who now ply their trade in the NBA. More recently, those things have been replaced by bad losses, missed tournaments, a botched Pauley renovation, and a more spotty record in terms of recruiting. But the more things change, the more they stay the same, and on the final night for the 2012-13 season in Old Pauley Under Glass, the coach failed to meet expectations, is once again on the way out, and Arizona gave him one last win.
For this last game at OPUG, students and old fogies alike were treated to the Kyle Anderson show. The freshman was dynamic, and a standout in an otherwise sloppy first half for both teams. His 15 point outburst at halftime had many thinking he would eclipse his personal scoring mark set just one game earlier against ASU. After halftime, his scoring went down, but he went back to doing the jack-of-all-trades work that has made him a fan favorite everywhere. On consecutive possessions, he recorded a steal and a strip, and the overall defensive work helped extend a lead on a Wildcat team content to settle for every jumpshot they could get their hands on.
It's hard to say that the completely overrated Sean Miller learned anything from the beatdown he received the first time, when his team fell into the exact same trap of taking terrible shots and rushing everything that was their undoing at the beginning of the game in McKale. If the fact that Arizona always gives our outgoing coaches parting gifts wasn't enough to be confident in this win, that Sean Miller is the opposing coach should be. He's going to have to recruit a lot better than this to cover up how he handled his team tonight.
Larry Drew II's 14 points and 9 assists proved to be big down the stretch, providing the presence and discipline at that position that Arizona clearly lacks. Jordan Adams had a tough night from the field, but he found his way into the box score anyway with 6 steals. Some guys just have a knack for being disruptive, and Adams is one of those guys. David "avi" Wear still can't play D to save his life, but what he can do is rebound (9 tonight, 8 defensive), and if he finally gets it through his skull that he's a role player and should be doing the dirty work, he and this team will be better off.
Shabazz Muhammad's last game at OPUG could have gone better, but he did still lead the team in scoring, and his play at the end of the game is what sealed the deal against a hard charging UA. We hope that both Shabazz and LDII have enjoyed their time in Westwood, and I'll personally miss them both.
And speaking of final games at OPUG, it's hard to see it all come to an end with Howland. While it's difficult to see him and not remember the good times when Afflalo, Collison, the Prince, Mata-Real, and others were out there, we are also reminded of the other Howland. The Howland that is so enamored with his 2 Wear lineup that he'll allow a jumpshot happy team like Arizona to dunk all over us and shred our interior defense, all while leaving Tony Parker on the bench. It's not surprising that the dominant feeling surrounding Howland's final OPUG game is one of ambivalence. Nevertheless, I hope he enjoyed his time here as well, and I do hope he finds somewhere else to land on his feet. I think if he recommits to what made him successful through 2008, and surrounds himself with the right assistants again, he can reclaim the reputation he has lost, but it just won't work here anymore. Thanks for the memories, Ben.