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Arizona’s roller coaster of a season has reached a new low

Gonzaga v Arizona Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

I’m not one who jumps at the chance to ride roller coasters. That’s not to say I never have or will never again, just that I am a bit of a wimp and there is something about them that leaves me satisfied watching from the ground.

The slow ascension and speedy drops, the twists, the turns, the loops — very little of it is appealing. In fact, the mere thought of it all leaves me feeling a bit queasy.

I’d rather stay comfortably on the ground, thank you very much. At least there I know what to expect.

You know, just like how we could all expect the Arizona Wildcats to soundly defeat a reeling UCLA Bruins team in Tucson.

About that...

Of all the defeats the Wildcats have suffered this season, and there have been (too) many, the 65-52 loss to the Bruins might have represented the low point. The big drop certainly made many of us sick.

Lower than losing to St. John’s, which was early in the season. Lower than getting blown out at Oregon State, which was on the road. Lower than coughing up a big lead in Tempe before losing in the final seconds to ASU, a team that was desperate to beat the Wildcats.

Hopefully this is the bottom, because I shudder at the thought of things getting even worse. Of course, with this year’s team anything and everything seems possible.

No one needs to be told that a team missing 34 of its shot attempts is probably going to lose. The Wildcats’ inability to make two-point shots in the first half and then three-point attempts in the second put them in a bad spot, while their shaky defense and lack of toughness finished the job.

UCLA is not a very good basketball team, yet they had no shortage of confidence in what is supposed to be a tough environment. Don’t blame the fans, though, as they deserve a team that provides something to cheer about.

We thought the Cats might be on the verge of being that kind of team when they swept the Washington trip and played a great first half against USC. But soon after intermission Thursday the wheels began to rattle, and by Saturday they completely fell off.

Hope was the Washington trip would be a turning point. Instead, it was just another in a growling list of false alarms, times in which we thought the Cats had figured things out only to be taken back to reality not long after.

That reality, as we now know for certain, is this is a talented but flawed team. At this time it feels like they are destined for a short stay in the NCAA Tournament, if they make it all.

By this time next week, talk might be about how they are a contender to reach the Final Four.

Such is the roller coaster that is this year’s team. This week is a low, and next week could be a high.

All of that means these final eight regular season games, and the ensuing Pac-12 Tournament matchups, carry only the significance of ensuring the Wildcats go dancing.

Why is that?

Well, it seems as though every loss the team has suffered has come with the hope that it will be a learning experience, whereas every win is looked at as a sign the team has finally found its groove.

Maybe one of these losses will teach the young Cats a lesson and perhaps their next win will be the victory that sends them on the way to greatness.

But until there is some sort of finality to the season, either with Sean Miller hoisting a big trophy or the red and blue-clad players walking off a court with their heads down, everything is just a giant question mark.

That’s not to say these next two games, at Cal and at Stanford, respectively, mean nothing. Of course if Arizona gets swept or otherwise looks bad by the Bay then even more doubt should — and will — creep into the equation.

On the flip side, if the Wildcats look great and earn a sweep, some level of confidence may be restored.

Would any of it last?

Just as the first road sweep by any Pac-12 team this season did not portend the Wildcats’ ascension to the top of the conference, the truth is it would be tough to take anything of significance from the road trip, good or bad.

At the very least it is nice to be reminded that yes, when the Wildcats play well they are as good as anyone in the country. Miller said as much in his press conference Tuesday, while at the same time pointing out that they are just as capable of losing to anyone when they struggle.

It’s not coachspeak, though you’d have to think the coach is tired of having to talk about his team’s wild fluctuations.

Ranked 10th in NET and 15th in KenPom, the Wildcats still have believers in the computers. Their algorithms lead emotions out of the equation, instead looking at the raw data and numbers before churning out a conclusion.

As the season gets even closer to its conclusion, the truth is the only thing we know about the Wildcats is we don’t really know much. The ride is not over, though, which means there is still time for more twists and turns and ups and downs. We may even be thrown for a loop or two.

Make sure you’re strapped in.