ArizonaNIT

BB: Arizona beats Duke for NIT Title

Jabari Parker was the best player on the floor with Rodney Hood close behind. And that’s the extent to which we will talk about Duke in this column. We don’t need to discuss their strengths or weaknesses, the makeup of their roster, or the Hall of Fame coach at their helm.

Because when vying for a championship, when the sights are set on AT&T Stadium in Dallas for a Monday night showdown, it doesn’t always matter who the best player is. Games are won by the collective effort of those dressed alike and what Arizona proved to us during their time in New York City was that their collective is going to be better than any individual. And could very well be better than any team.

Again, this isn’t about Duke because Arizona beat them without needing a perfect game. Sure they leaned on some moments but when push came to shove – and it always does – Arizona was the better team. When it came to a 19-point deficit against a hotter-than-a-Dragon’s-breath Drexel team, the Wildcats responded. Not with the efforts of one, but with anyone wearing a white jersey. Aaron Gordon had this to say to ESPN’s Andy Katz following the win:

“I’m the glue guy on a team that has talent,” Gordon said. “You can stick me in the middle of all these pieces and we have all the potential in the world.”

That’s coming from the rumored star. The prodigal one-and-done who’s declaring that his curtails won’t be rode to Dallas but that you’ve gotta mess with the whole damn lot of them.

Let’s roll things back 12-months with Billy Donovan’s Gators were headed to Tucson. It was a colossal game – particularly within the context of Arizona’s recent basketball history – that the Wildcats would win. But did it really feel monumental? Could you revisit that game, talk about it with a friend and think, “Wow, this Arizona team has got it.” Please don’t get me wrong here, I enjoyed watching that game as much as the next guy. My neighbors could hear the screams through the walls. But we couldn’t walk away sensing that Arizona was necessarily better than Florida – or anyone else for that matter. Frankly, the Gators outplayed the Wildcats for everything but the critical moments. The national dialogue – despite Arizona eventually running out to a 14-0 record with that nice RPI win – became such that the Wildcats were a good team who’d won a few ball games and would come back down to earth. That Florida perhaps dribbled one too many balls off their feet and Arizona hadn’t necessarily beat the Gators so much as outlasted them. There was a feeling of overachievement.

After defeating Duke, things feel different.

As the game was closing down to it’s final moments, with things slipping away from the Blue Devils and Arizona playing to its strengths, time seemed to slow as Kaleb Tarczewski set a nonchalant screen into the back of an unsuspecting Blue Devil. You could see the play developing from Tucson as TJ McConnell lofted the ball to the far side of the rim from 30 feet away. Rising to put the ball through the hoop was Aaron Gordon who emphatically did so. It was the Wildcats 17th assist on their 22nd made basket.

It wasn’t Mark Lyons off balance or Solomon Hill with a late steal. It wasn’t Brendan Lavender for 18 or a Derrick Williams block. It was an executed team play – repeatable and effective – for the Arizona win.

Tell me, how does that feel?

And this: