ASU Loss Essentially Ends Arizona Wildcats' NCAA Tournament Streak

Tom PhillipsCorrespondent IFebruary 21, 2010

PHOENIX - MARCH 29:  Head coach Sean Miller of the Xavier Musketeers watches the final minutes of the West Regional Final against the UCLA Bruins at the U.S. Airways Center on March 29, 2008 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Bruins won the game 76-57.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

After Arizona's win over ASU in January, many fans (myself included) thought that this would be the game that the Wildcats needed to push them forward.  This would be the game where it clicked for this young squad and they would string together a run to make it to their 26th straight NCAA tournament.

For a week that was true.  Arizona went on to sweep the Northern California schools at home and push them into sole possession of first place.

Then the second half of the Pac-10 schedule hit them. Arizona has gone 1-4 since February started.

Call it the freshman wall, call it whatever you want.  With the exception of the Oregon game, the Wildcats have not played inspired basketball since the Cal game.

They come out looking flat with only one or two players looking to step up while the other players just sit back waiting for someone else to make a play.

The loss to ASU was no exception.

Arizona made high school mistakes, such as stepping out of bounds while making bad passes and turnovers at crucial points in the game.  Just when it seemed like the Wildcats were about to make a run, they fell back into their old ways.  Each player seemed to be waiting around for a teammate to start making plays.

If the Wildcats are going to stand any chance of making a last stand in the Pac-10 tournament, this will have to change.

This season, the Wildcats have had a tendency to let one of the other team's player score career highs.  BYU's Jimmer Fredette had 49 points and Washington's Quincy Pondexter had 30.  ASU's Ty Abbott fell two short of his, scoring 28 points on a day where he couldn't seem to miss.  This trend is troubling as the season wears on and the Wildcats seem to be worn out.

It is a sad day that this realization comes with a loss to Arizona's rival. If it had happened against one of the better teams in the Pac-10 (ASU is one of the better teams in the Pac-10 for the record) it might be an easier pill to swallow.

Arizona had played big brother to ASU for 23 years, toying with them and letting them win one every once in a while just so it would seem like a rivalry to them.

Now it has become a real rivalry. ASU has won six of seven over the past three years and now their fans can, legitimately, bring up basketball in arguments.

If the Wildcats want to have any chance of seeing the tournament they will have to pull it together during the Pac-10 tournament. The winner of the tournament is likely to be the only team from the Pac-10 invited to the "Big Dance" this year.

With only four games remaining before the Pac-10 tournament, these games will show what kind of team the Arizona Wildcats really are.  Will they weather the storm and overcome adversity?  Or will they drown amid the premature hype about going to the tourney?