Coast 2 Coast Hoops
As one Wildcat player said after Arizona’s heart-stopping 68-67 win over San Diego St in Honolulu’s Diamond Head Classic, “We knew we were going to win. Even when we were down, we knew we were going to win.”
Whether it was false bravado or true grit doesn’t really matter. What matters is that down the stretch of the two most crucial games on the schedule this year, Arizona made the plays that made the difference. They showed that it might not always be pretty, but it won’t be lacking passion. And when the chips were down, the Wildcats showed that their character is to rise to the occasion.
Perhaps no player embodies that idea more than Mark Lyons. Whether it’s intense, in your face defense, or the desire to take clutch shots, Lyons is a gritty player. You could try to poke holes in his game, pointing to his assist to turnover ratio or shot selection as critiques of his ability to lead a team. But you’d be missing the real value of having a player like that as your floor leader. No matter what mistakes Lyons makes through the course of the game, his confidence and resolve are unshakable.
That’s not something that everyone has. And, clearly, it has rubbed off on the rest of the team. Whether it was the furious comeback against Florida or the late game heroics against San Diego St, the Cats had the psychological fortitude to overcome adversity. And there was a lot of adversity in those two critical games.
You could argue that in their two wins against ranked opponents, Arizona actually played some of its worst basketball of the season. But despite stretches of sloppy play and scoring droughts, the Wildcats still emerged victorious. Even on days when they played great and we played below expectations, Arizona still had a certain something that put them over the top. That’s true grit.
So as we’re watching this team, which is certainly an unfinished product, keep in mind that Arizona has not played well against its two best opponents — and they still won. Detractors have cited Arizona’s level of play in those games as evidence that they don’t belong among the nation’s elite, but really it proves just the opposite. On Arizona’s bad days, they’re still good enough to beat talented teams. That’s a sign of mental toughness. It’s a sign of a group of winners. I’ll say it again, that’s true grit.