NIT could be good fit for Arizona Wildcatsby Christopher C. Wuensch on Mar. 11, 2012, under Sports
UPDATE: Arizona is a No. 1 seed in the NIT. The Wildcats will play host to Bucknell on March 14 at 7 p.m. MST.
Jason Gardner hit the rim. Jamelle Horne clanked the iron as well.
When Kyle Fogg’s season-saving attempt landed on the hardwood, rather than the bottom of the net, the Colorado faithful refrained from chanting “air ball.”
They were too busy reveling in the Buffaloes’ first Pac-12 Tournament title.
This is the time of year where fatal misses outnumber miraculous buzzer beaters.
And Fogg’s highly-contested blank — albeit not in an NCAA tournament game — will remain forever seared into the memory of Wildcats fans’ all-time failed game-winning shots.
Saturday’s do-or-die Pac-12 Championship game for all intents-and-purposes might as well have been a NCAA tournament game.
But Arizona Nation should, and cannot, hold Fogg solely accountable in the Wildcats’ 53-51 loss in Los Angeles’ Staples Center.
Unfortunately, the miss will be a vision that endures for posterity sake — not the lackluster energy, surrendered leads or blown opportunities.
There’s a way for Fogg to rehab his image as the newest member in the fraternity of Wildcats’ buzzer-beater blankers: go out and win the National Invitational Tournament.
Where Gardner’s miss against Kansas in 2003 and Horne’s final-seconds brick against Connecticut last season denied the Wildcats a trip to the Final Four, Fogg has the chance to leave Arizona without “the air ball” being the final indelible image of what’s become a remarkable little career in Tucson.
In fact, a strong NIT run, if not title, could redeem the entire 2011-12 Wildcat squad.
Let’s be honest. They weren’t going to win the NCAA tournament. As Wildcat fans witnessed last year, the degree of difficulty to be the last team standing in April is enormous — even with a No. 2 overall NBA draft pick (Derrick Williams) leading your efforts.
Where upstart middle-tier programs such as VCU and Butler have given hope to the “little guys” the past few seasons, the odds remain astronomically against a squad such as this year’s Wildcats.
This is a team that saw three freshmen inserted into its thin seven-man rotation due to injuries, had players playing out of position all season long and witnessed the implosion of two highly-touted recruits who were supposed to make an immediate difference.
Making matters worse was the emotional ebb-and-flow that was Kevin Parrom’s season (was shot twice in the leg and suffered the death of his mother within a three-week span early in the school year, all before a season-ending injury).
For Arizona to win big would be the stuff of modern-day Hickory High folk lore — presumably with Solomon Hill playing the role of Jimmy Chitwood.
The resilience of this year’s team to even have a chance at regular season’s end should be enough to endear it into Wildcat history as a team that over-achieved. Instead of going down as a squad that failed to live up to the fan-bases’ monumental expectations.
Only time will tell, of course. And a strong NIT showing certainly will help ingrain the image of the former rather than the latter.
It might sound like an apologists’ plea for a program that expects to compete every season. But is it more memorable or meaningful to play at least one game in the NCAA tournament or to make a serious run, if not win, the NIT?
That Arizona even got this far with what they’ve had to overcome is a testament to Sean Miller.
The recruits are rolling in to learn under the head coach’s tutelage. And Arizona basketball will return to its heyday — possibly as soon as next season.
As for this year’s Wildcats, the NIT might be the perfect platform to carve their own niche in the program’s annals. After all, plenty of former Arizona teams have gone one-and-done in the tournament. None have ever won the NIT, especially considering the Wildcats haven’t played in the secondary tourney since 1951.
That would give Arizona Nation a unique way of remembering this team.
And at the very least, give Kyle Fogg one more shot.