Thoughts of John Wooden and UCLA hang over ACCAC play

Futile.  Webster’s Dictionary defines the word as “pointless, trifling, worrisome.”

That might also define life in women’s college basketball in Arizona.  At least, if your team is a member of the Arizona Community College Athletic Association (ACCAC).

“It was great to get to this point two years in a row,” Arizona Western College coach, Patrick Cunningham, said after his team got beat in the Region I championship game.  “I think our sophomores can be proud of that.”

But AWC didn’t just get beat.  They got run out of the gym by Central Arizona College, 64-33.  Held to 23 percent shooting.  Out-rebounded by 13 boards, 57-44.  An effort in futility.

But Cunningham’s post-game comments illustrate  how teams have come to expect those kind of results when playing the Vaqueras.  He was admittedly disappointed, but… hey, it is CAC, after all.

Western’s top scorers in the loss were all in single digits; T.J. Manson, Tyrisha Blake, and Amanda Rawlings each scored nine points.

CAC has the fourth-highest scorer in the nation at this level, Olivia Major, who is averaging 21.4 points.  But they didn’t even need her usual output for the title game.  She only had nine points on three treys, but Sancheon White filled the void with a game-high 17 points and Brianna Johnson added 12 more.

So cutting off the head of the serpent doesn’t get it done, either.

The Lady Matadors were good enough to get to the title game, so this wasn’t a patsy on the schedule.  That’s just how good CAC is.  A 31-point win over the next-best conference team.

But teams in the ACCAC have gotten used to dealing with the CAC ‘mystique’ over the years.  The last time CAC lost a conference game was Nov. 25, 2003.  Right now, the Vaqueras are on a 142-game conference winning streak and headed to Kansas to play in the NJCAA Tournament and try to win their sixth national championship.

What must it be like to lace up your sneakers at the start of another season with the knowledge that conference runner-up is what you’ll likely be playing for after four months of work?

That must be how teams felt during the ’70s when John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins totally dominated men’s college hoops.  A record 19 conference championships.  Ten national championships, seven of those in a row!  And 88 consecutive wins over a four-year span in that decade.

The Vaqueras have five national championships, 29 ACCAC titles, 27 NJCAA national tournament appearances, and once had a win streak that ran for 185 consecutive games.

Just about all of those achievements can be credited to Hall of Fame coach Lin Laursen, who ran the program from 1971 until last year when she turned it over to her assistant, Denise Cardenas.  Cardenas rewarded the promotion by going 35-0 and winning the 2009 national championship.  This year, the Vaqueras are 29-2.

The UCLA program has never been quite the same since John Wooden stepped away after the 1974-75 season, and college basketball breathed a collective sigh of relief.

But teams are still holding their breath in the ACCAC.