The Drive with Jody Oehler

The Drive with Jody Oehler

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Did UofA Basketball Find Its Savior?

Arizona basketball used to be the envy of the state, the conference and the entire west coast.

More recently most people have just felt sorry for Arizona.

I don't need to remind you why or how it happened, but if you are an Arizona fan, you feel it in your bones.

This year hasn't been better. Most of the year it has felt like the kind of season that was only going to invite more unwanted pity and sarcastic empathy for the once great program.

Blessed with a trio of top tier NBA prospects masquerading as college freshman, Arizona has been expected all season long to flex its muscles once again.

That hasn't happened.

Arizona basketball has played scared. They've played tight. And they've been unable to fight back in the most obvious of situations at home and on the road.

They've just been missing something.

And now they might have found it.

Over the last two games, ballyhooed freshman Nico Mannion has looked more like Mike Bibby than Mustafa Shakur.

He still has a ways to go before he can convincingly be mentioned in the same breath as the legendary Bibby who led Arizona to its only national championship as a freshman but at least he's trending in the right direction.

For 37 minutes against UCLA in Los Angeles, he was the best player on the floor; effortlessly finding teammates for open looks and creatively setting them up for easy dunks. But he couldn't close the deal, contributing to Arizona turning the ball over on three straight possessions and watching his team lose.

On Thursday night it was lowly Washington State's turn to turn the temperature up on Sean Miller's hot seat in the first half before Nico Mannion helped engineer a 26-0 run in the second half, propelling Arizona to a blowout win.

Next up is Washington and then the Pac 12 tournament and then Selection Sunday.

Miller has tried to protect his freshman point guard all season and did so again after Thursday's win.

But this isn't the time for protecting Nico Mannion from the enormous expectations he faces.

Its March, the only option for Nico Mannion to do what so many, including Miller, have craved from an Arizona point guard for years: its time for Nico Mannion to live up to those expectations.

And if the last two games are any indication, while there's still work to be done, Mannion has never been closer to reviving Point Guard U.

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