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For two weeks running, the Arizona Wildcats have watched their fourth quarter lead disappear. Sure we could find the momentary lapses where this became a possibility but as it happens more often, we're left to question whether this team can close?
I went to the game and it ended faster than a buzzer beater. Saturday's Arizona-Stanford game had the feel of a swift punch-and-run as the Cardinal imposed their will over the final nine minutes and overtime. It was Arizona's second squandered fourth quarter lead in as many weeks.
But before I get too far down the path of discussing failed frontline pressure or the ill-timed and costly false start or the sudden offensive ineptitude or a lack of depth, there's something bigger at hand. Yielding 20 unanswered to close a contest is larger than X's and O's or bad penalties. That's not to say there's a pandemic or systemic issue in this locker room but the longer it sticks around, the more concerning it can become.
Before kickoff, whilst tailgating down at The Farm, I ran into an Arizona alum whose experience I'd like to draw upon in analogizing. Allow me this:
I saw a light hitting shortstop.
He was good enough to be an eleventh round pick but was immediately approached about a possible move to the mound. The Reds gave his hitting career a whirl and in that one season at the dish he would hit a cool .213 and knock in just 23 runs. As they say, numbers don't lie and it was clear this guy didn't know how to hit. Off to the mound with him! Six-hundred-and-one career saves later the numbers still don't lie.
Trevor Hoffman knew how to close.
There were better fastballs (maybe no better changeup) on better teams but when push came to shove, he was going to finish that game. He showed guests the door and made sure it hit them on the way out.
Closing is a unique skill not specific to baseball. Lance closed bike rides, Tiger and Roger closed majors, Jordan closed titles. Hell you very well may close deals. Undoubtedly these were talented men but they're celebrated for their toughness between the ears. Unflappable to the fact that they knew they were going to win. Closers.
Right now, these Wildcats, are starters and set up men. The next level - is it any surprise Oregon pulls away in second halves? - starts and ends in your melon.
You don't hope to win, you know it.
That's what Trevor Hoffman did and it's what these Wildcats need to figure out. They're 0-3 in conference and I still believe you'd be hard pressed to find a defensive coordinator excited at having to scheme for Matt Scott and Ka'Deem Carey. That's to say they are good. And while two does not a team make, this is a talented enough team that they should not be losing back-to-back games in this fashion.
You can draw up all the right plays, even execute them effectively, but the slightest margin of doubt can be damning.
So the Bye week probably comes at a good time; allowing Rich Rod's roughed up crew some time to reflect on what kind of team they are and what kind of season they can create. Because whatever it is they manage to come up with, they'd just better believe in it.