Dan Monson launched into a give-em-hell tirade, arms flailing, face flushed, and it’s-not-too-late-to-save-your-face message in front of Long Beach State’s bench.
The 49ers coach scratched his head and cleared his bench, sending five new players into the game.
What else could he do?
Long Beach State had missed 23 of its first 26 shots, including all 11 from three-point distance. Arizona led 31-13. Would the first half never end?
Gabe York was in the process of swishing four straight three-pointers. Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson were alternating tomahawk dunks.
There was no place to hide. It seemed like Arizona was using six players, arms everywhere.
Before Monson could take a seat, before his timeout instructions cooled off, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson stole a 49ers’ pass and sprinted for an uncontested dunk.
As the designated victim Monday night, Long Beach State was paid $95,000 for its appearance at McKale Center. That’s about a buck for each time Arizona fans looked at the scoreboard and thought, “These guys could be really good.’’
Arizona won 91-57, whetting the appetite for Thursday’s game at San Diego State, its first measuring point of a long and difficult season.
Here’s some irony: a generation ago, Don Monson, Dan’s father, sat on the same bench at McKale Center, executing one of the epic coaching jobs in the arena’s history, holding a Lute Olson team to 40 points — you can look it up, Feb. 21, 1985 — as the Oregon Ducks confounded the Wildcats 43-40.
This time Arizona had 44 at the half.
Times have changed at McKale, and not just against a coach named Monson.
“As a team we talked about our identity,’’ said Johnson. “We’re a strong defensive team, a top-10- in-the-country defensive team, getting out on the break. We really push the ball; we’ve got a lot of people that can finish on the break’’
In his fifth Arizona season, Sean Miller is deploying what looks to be an inexhaustible, slow-isn’t-an-option rotation with size, versatility and firepower. The coach is so driven to fix the potential flaw of his club — foul shooting — that on Sunday he required each player to shoot 100 free throws at the end of practice.
Then on Monday he got them back for another 100 foul shots apiece.
That’s almost a luxury in college basketball: worrying about foul-shooting and not necessarily an opponent’s strategy.
“I wasn’t surprised we only had 18 points at half,’’ said Monson. “I knew offensively we were a work in progress and we were going to struggle. What I didn’t like is how we reacted to it.’’
It has been 28 years since Dan Monson’s father found a way to end a seven-game Arizona winning streak by playing keep-away basketball, but it has only been two years since Seattle Pacific beat the Wildcats 69-68 at McKale in an exhibition game.
The change since then has almost been as thorough as the decades since Dan Monson was an Idaho Vandal undergrad.
In that debacle against Seattle Pacific, in which Arizona trailed 46-33 in the second half, Miller started this lineup:
— Solomon Hill, now with the Indiana Pacers.
— Jesse Perry, now averaging 5.8 points for Siauliai in the Lithuanian pro league.
— Kyryl Natyazhko, a backup center for BC Azovmash, a Ukrainian pro team.
— Josiah Turner, one of 16 players in training camp with the minor league Los Angeles D-Fenders.
— Kyle Fogg, who is out of basketball.
The first man off the bench that night was Sidiki Johnson, who, like Fogg, is similarly out of basketball.
Those days now seem prehistoric and desperate.
Monday’s dismantling of Long Beach State, and Arizona’s transformation into a national juggernaut, wasn’t as predictable as it may now seem. But one thing has held true over those 28 years of Monson-to-Monson: Sooner or later, Arizona will bite back.
When Olson began his historic 71-game winning streak at McKale, victim No. 1 was Long Beach State. When the elder Monson left Oregon, in 1992, he had lost seven straight at McKale. The last one was 104-53.
In that context, Monday’s game, fronted as the Fiesta Bowl Classic, was really “Back to the Future.’’
Now comes a Thursday night special at San Diego State, an immediate measuring stick in rugged terrain. Is it too early for a relatively young team?
“I love it,” said Johnson. “I’ve heard about their crowd. They’ve got a great team coming back. I’m ready. We’re ready.’’
Miller has been in Monson’s seat and it wasn’t that long ago. In his ninth game at Arizona, Miller played at San Diego State and it was a forgettable night. The Aztecs won 63-46.
“I felt like we were going to lose by 50 the last time we were there,’’ he said. “It was men against boys.’’
Since then, after reshaping the UA program, Miller has made it a wash. On Thursday it’ll be men against men.