Column: Best and worst of Arizona Athletics in 2018-19 season

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Madeleine Viceconte | The Daily Wildcat Sean Miller watches the game on the sideline during the game against ASU on Thursday, Jan. 31 at Wells Fargo Arena. Arizona was beaten by ASU in overtime 95-88.

In almost every situation, you have to take the good with the bad. However, this year struggles on and off the field for Arizona Athletics clouded several accomplishments. Here's the year-in-review "best and worst" of Arizona Wildcats sports in 2018-19.

WORST

“New Era” shows more of the same

Many national and local pundits alike had high hopes for the beginning of the Kevin Sumlin show in Tucson. However, things went south for the new head coach quickly. Tate hurt his ankle in the second week of the season and never truly regained the footing he had as one of college football’s most electric players. 

Arizona started 3-5 before rattling off two straight wins heading into the final two-week stretch of the season where, at the time, a trip to the conference title game was still in play. But a blowout loss to Washington State and a “never speak of this game again”-type meltdown against ASU ended Arizona football’s year in horrendous fashion. 


Running back JJ Taylor (21) fumbles the ball and turns the ball over to ASU during the game on Saturday, Nov. 14 at Arizona Stadium. ASU took home the territorial cup with a final score of 41-40. 

RELATED: UA women's sports enjoy successful seasons across the board

Sexual assault cases

Athletic failure on the field can be accepted, but personal failure to comply with rules off the field cannot. The University of Arizona and its athletic department have a lot of cleaning up to do after several reports of sexual assault surfaced this season, specifically in the football program. This article isn’t designed to explore all of the ramifications of the issue, but you can find detailed stories of the abuse in the Arizona Daily Star. In response to the findings of sexual assault in athletics, Arizona has retained attorney Natasha Baker to review the school’s Title IX policies.


Former Arizona assistant coach for track and field, Craig Carter.


At the end of April, Baillie Gibson, a former discus thrower and shot-putter for UA track and field, reached a $999K settlement with the state of Arizona after a three-and-a-half year court battle against Craig Carter, her former track coach who pleaded guilty to aggravated assault. 

Clock ticking on Miller?

Arizona men’s basketball’s season spent most of its time clouded by controversy. Even if none of the players were involved in it, Sean Miller was, and it showed in the final months of the season. As more reports surfaced about wiretaps and a pay-for-play scheme, the UA and Miller stuck to their guns. Athletic director Dave Heeke continued to put his faith in Miller’s denial of involvement, and Miller has only offered up a few dozen “no comments” when asked about the matter.


Arizona Men's Basketball Head Coach, Sean Miller, surveys the court during the Arizona-California game on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019 at the McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.


It’s innocent until proven guilty — and there’s nothing public yet directly linking Miller to paying his players — but one has to wonder how long the negative attention can go on before both sides consider a fresh start.

RELATED: Book Richardson says on wiretap Miller was paying Ayton $10,000 per month

BEST

Women’s sports steal the show

Okay, now onto the more enjoyable topics. Arizona women’s sports had a year to remember that started off with women’s golf taking home a national championship in June. Soccer followed that up with another NCAA Tournament appearance in November, advancing to the second round. A few months later, women’s basketball won the WNIT championship in a sold-out McKale Center for the program’s first WNIT title since 1996. Women’s golf enters summer in the position to win back-to-back championships, as it is the No. 2 seed in the East Lansing Regional.



Honor the legends

Any sports hall of fame is a prestigious place to be, and the Wildcats added a few more names to the list. In men’s basketball, Deandre Ayton and Jerryd Bayless were put in UA’s Ring of Honor and had their names hung in the rafters of McKale Center back in October. In February, UA baseball retired the No. 15 jersey of MLB Hall of Famer and former Wildcat Trevor Hoffman. These ceremonies forever enshrined athletes who have left a legacy in Tucson.  


Deandre Ayton receives a ring of honor for his time on the Arizona basketball team during the halftime of Arizona v. Colorado game. 



Facilities give facelift to campus

If appearances are everything, then Arizona’s athletic facilities are dressed to impress. Several of UA’s sporting venues got renovations or a complete makeover. The ZonaZoo and some concourse areas were upgraded at Arizona Stadium — including the sale of beer! — and more plans to redevelop the seating areas are in the works. Hillenbrand Stadium was completely reconstructed to fit the modern-day softball-stadium mold, as was Hillenbrand Aquatic Center. On top of all that, an indoor athletic facility was built between Arizona Stadium and McKale. 


During the opening ceremony of the new Hillenbrand stadium, head coach Mike Candrea cuts celebratory ribbon. Due to rain the first softball game of the season was cancelled.

RELATED: Top senior student-athletes provide success, stability for several UA sports

TOO CLOSE TO CALL

The outcome of Arizona softball’s season will put it in either the “best” or “worst” category. It could fall in the best if the Wildcats manage to advance to the Women’s College World Series for the first time since 2010. There’s strong reason to believe this year’s squad can do so, as they currently rank top 10 in the country and had a 21-game win streak at one point. 

But if head coach Mike Candrea and company get bounced in the Super Regionals (or earlier) again, it will be a painful reminder Arizona hasn’t been able to beat softball’s elite when it matters most in a decade.


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