On February 14, 1912, the territory known as “Arizona” was signed into statehood thus completing the continental United States. Happy Birthday, home state.
As it were, the University of the Valentine State, has a good basketball team headed to Colorado (an August baby) and I’ve taken a growing interest in this kitty corner rivalry. Because here I am: on a gracious couch in Denver awaiting a bus to Boulder for a raucous evening of fandom.
Get up to date with the funtivities and other things around the Pac:
As we celebrated McKale’s fortieth amidst tales of moments that filled Arizona’s home stadium, Angelo Chol had one of his own.
With Grant Jerrett out and the dynamic front court of the Stanford Cardinal imposing much of their will onto Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley, it was the intermittently used Chol who captured the opportunity to win. He doubled his previous biggest minutes output of the season in producing 6 points and 8 rebounds and disrupting the active Dwight Powell just enough to allow the Wildcats to pull away. Because without Chol there was no stopping that man.
It was his moment and he seized it.
Sean Miller would go on to rave of his back-up forward’s, back-up’s performance, going so far as to say had he not risen to the occasion it was “game over.” The Wildcats grew dependent on the ninth player off their bench and he delivered. That’s impressive and that’s special.
And so too is the season Solomon Hill is compiling. Which at this point has moderately gone without saying. Twenty second half points while also drawing defensive duties on the overpowering tandem of Huestis and Powell is damn impressive. That Lyons kid was special, too. Miller called it his best game as a Wildcat and you’ll hear no argument from me. He’s “turning the corner” as a point guard, Miller raved. A fact that is both special and frightening regarding the ever elevating ceiling of this team twenty-two games deep.
[This is the point in the post where I must say that Dwight Powell is unstoppable]
Indeed last night was a celebration of the moments we’ve enjoyed and the Wildcats have delivered for the past 40 years inside that stadium. And Chol and his teammates treated us to a few more, painting a clearer picture of what this team is capable of with its depth, fortitude, and leadership. A team unafraid of the moment.
February 1st marked the official 40th anniversary of the 1973 opening of McKale Memorial Center. For those of you that don’t know, McKale Memorial Center (or just “McKale”) is located at 1 National Championship Dr. Tucson, AZ 85721, and houses the home court of the University of Arizona Wildcat basketball team. As a lifelong Wildcat fan, McKale is also the venue for some of my greatest college basketball memories (RIP RCA Dome).
Fittingly, Sean Miller took to the Twitterverse to ask Arizona fans what their favorite memory at McKale was. As a coach who knows that many a Wildcat fan has an encyclopedic knowledge of every great game at McKale since 1973, this is a great PR move by Miller—who consistently has a deft touch when it comes to fan engagement. However, for this lifelong fan picking one memory is impossible, let alone fitting it into 140 characters. As such, @UACoachMiller: a list of my 3 favorite McKale Memores #guestblog:
Salim from the Cactus
Salim Stoudamire is one of my all time favorite ‘Cats. If most people are like me, they can’t remember the kid ever missing a shot—especially a three. Say what you will about J.J. Redick‘s 2005, Salim shot a ludicrous .504 from behind the arc. But it’s the afternoon of Saturday, January 15, 2005 that stands alone.
UCLA was in town with second year coach Ben Howland and 14,558 fans were there to watch with me. McKale was rocking: National TV, Steve Lavin on the call, and the red sweater crowd was standing. Arizona trailed by four at the half, but mounted a comeback fueled by Salim’s 24 point, 9-for-11-shooting second half. With the clock running under thirty seconds UCLA’s freshman prodigy, Aaron Aflalo, had just tied the game with a three. But now it was Arizona’s ball. Salim casually received it near mid court and cleared things out to break down Afflalo. Then, without warning, he pulled up from 27 feet and launched an arcing three pointer. The ball hung in the air for what seemed hours, and then like a movie, splashed straight into the net like a stone into a pond. McKale erupted.
The Other Rivals
At the end of the 1990’s and early 2000s Stanford and Arizona battled back and forth for Pac-10 supremacy. They forged a rivalry that featured heart wrenching defeats, heart stopping wins, top 10 matchups, and twins, always twins. I still get annoyed thinking about Mike Montgomery in his glasses, sitting on the bench clutching his clipboard, chewing gum and orchestrating plays for his limitless stable of three-point-assassins. Needless to say, beating Stanford was great. Beating Stanford when they were ranked second in the land entering McKale and favored by Vegas to win? Even better.
If I’d known or cared about spreads and betting as an 8th grader I would have told Vegas to go fly a kite. In 2000 Arizona just didn’t lose at McKale. In fact, leading into this Stanford game Arizona had only lost 15 times at home since 1990, and since the 1996-1997 season, had lost only twice at home by a combined total of 4 points. Vegas needed a better bookie. In 2000, when you marched through the tunnel under Speedway en route to McKale, you weren’t marching to a game. You were marching to a prelude to victory party. And March 9, 2000 would be no different.
Richard Jefferson was returning from a foot he had broken earlier that year in a win at Maples. He came off the bench for 19 points that day and as Stanford shot meaningless free throws at the end of the game he smiled and gestured to the crowd to quiet down as they chanted, “overrated, overrated.” And when the clock struck zeros, it was Jefferson himself celebrating atop the scorer’s table with fans streaming onto the floor.
At 4 pm McKale Center time on February 19, 2011 Washington and Arizona tipped off in McKale with first place in the Pac-12 on the line. Some two hours later the game finished as Derrick Williams blocked Darnell Gant’s potential game winner into the stands. The Block.
Many Wildcat fans will tell you that The Block is their favorite McKale memory. And you’d be hard pressed to find a single Wildcat fan in McKale that day that would say anything different. I was watching the game by myself in my friend’s basement in Portland, Oregon and it’s still one of my favorite memories. I can’t tell you what happened after I leaped up in jubilation and smashed my hands into the ceiling immediately following Williams’ blocked shot, but I’d imagine I immediately called or texted the author of this blog.
This game makes the list because it is probably the greatest McKale memory in the Sean Miller era (due respect to the Florida game this year). This game had all the ingredients: Miller had asked all the fans to wear white and all of them did, the game was nationally broadcast on ESPN, and the Pac-12 title was on the line. What made this game special is this was the first game in several years at McKale that really meant something. Arizona fans knew they had a special player in Derrick Williams and knew they had found a coach in Sean Miller that was going to do special things.
It was a coming out party for Miller, the program, fans at McKale, and fans in Tucson and across the country. When Derrick swatted that shot into the sea of white every one of those fans from McKale to Portland let out a cathartic jubilant scream years in the making.
The 1993-1994 ‘Cats welcomed the Michigan Wolverines into McKale. These were the same Wolverines of Fab Five fame that had run out of timeouts just one year earlier in the National Championship game. Although Chris Webber had split for the NBA, they came to town in their oversized shorts and with plenty of swagger. Khalid Reeves welcomed them to town by torching them for 40 points in a 119-95 route.
 The RCA Dome in Indianapolis hosted the 1997 Final Four, where Arizona won its first (and only) NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship.
Well, well, well. If it isn’t conference play back and in our Thursday/Saturday faces. I enjoyed a grand chunk of Pac-12 hoops this weekend and while I’m still on the fence about these Wednesday games, I can totally get behind Sunday games and I definitively don’t miss FSN. Did any of you catch the Civil War game last night? The game itself was alright, the Ducks showed off some scoring depth and acumen, while Oregon State sorta confirmed they’re defenseless. Alas, the point being, I was inundated with VALUES.com ads (are those even advertisements? PSAs?) like this one and I’m pretty certain that I now have no interest in passing anything on to anyone. Did you watch the video yet? WHAT IS THAT?
Back to the hoops because by Friday morning, every game had been within five-points with under five to play and I wasn’t hungover. By Sunday night, nearly the same! Saturday’s games had a moderate ho hum about them but offered us a glimpse into a world where maybe the Utah Utes aren’t abysmal and maybe UCLA is just a really good team that had some growing pains.
Alas, solid first weekend of conference play, let’s head to the monitors to take a look at it (too soon?):
Leader in the Clubhouse: Based on their body of work, one has to consider the undefeated Wildcats here but seeing as how this is more of a week to week commentary, I have to say UCLA was the most fear striking team out there. If we’re to take Sean Miller’s word for it and believe Arizona is approaching the number one ranking in KenPom’s luck rankings (they’re 36th), then I’m not entirely sure I’m willing to call Arizona a leader after that weekend. Not to say they aren’t good or definitely the best team in the conference, but UCLA handling the Bay schools was most impressive to me. What makes me cringe however, and gives merit to the claims that Howland’s program is a joyless one, was the expressionless Bruin faces after each victory. They appeared robotic rolling thru handshakes which doesn’t really get me feeling one way or the other, just maybe that this team makes it way through this fascinating season with mechanical efficiency. Slice it however you will and I’m probably looking far too deep into far too little. Of course, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good…
Game of the Weekend: That little tilt down in Tucson Thursday night sure was an interesting one. It was expected to be the biggest game of the first weekend on paper and lived up to the hype and would later have the sports media world abuzz. And this guy’s commentary. I’m not one for harping on officiating as it’s a difficult job, blah, blah, blah…and to blame the stripes over and over and over is without a doubt the biggest little brother move anyone can do. But man, that one sure appeared to be blown. Colorado was the benefactor of a last second officiating gaffe last year, this stuff happens. But the game itself was a tremendous display of defensive brilliance and effort by the Buffs who held Arizona’s big three of Solomon Hill, Nick Johnson, and Mark Lyons to just 2-18 shooting before the tone of the game switched and the Wildcats decided to make a comeback. That’s where we got to see Solomon Hill and Mark Lyons play like the vaunted seniors we expect them to be. They scored a combined 24 across regulation’s final nine minutes (that’s 17 more points than the team combined to score in the games first eleven minutes), and accounted for half of Arizona’s overtime output. That’s senior leadership and that’s how you do special things. The Wildcats escaped with another tight one that the Buffs just might be face-palming about later this season.
The Big Loser: The two biggest candidates here have got to be Colorado and Stanford as the only two-loss teams in the conference. I’d also consider throwing Washington State, USC and Oregon State’s names into the hat as they each now possess home losses. By my nature (grossly neurotic) decisions frighten me but I’m not inclined to call the Colorado Buffaloes losers this week. For a grand chunk of their time in McKale they were the better team and arguably had that one ripped out their hands. Their Tempe time was a little different and I really think ASU just beat them but if I’m Colorado, I have to think there are still enough positive takeaways to not be too down on this weekend. Also because Stanford kinda just got beat all weekend. They didn’t execute down the stretch against USC, a game they got 0/2/2 and 3 turnovers in just 15 minutes from Chasson Randle, and were just not nearly as good as UCLA. The Cardinal were a team I thought would be clicking a little better than they currently are. To be certain, they don’t appear to be a team all that pissed off for greatness.
What We Learned: I think this weekend went a long way in confirming the company line each coach has been pumping since August: The Conference is improved. Few if any have gone so far as to say the Pac is “good” but they can get behind “improved” which is basically saying that none of these teams historically suck again. A fact I think we are starting to see. Utah played two very tough games in Arizona and Jason Washburn and Jordan Loveridge appear to be the real deal. Arizona State took a couple shots from Colorado and, by games end, had flipped the defensive script on the Buffs and won the ball game. I have no resounding commentary on the Apple Cup rivalry other than it played out like a good rivalry game should and that those two (UW and WSU) aren’t going to be doing too much this season by way of getting the Pac considered “good.” But, on the whole, this is an improved conference.
Start of the Week YouTuber: All right, I’ll confess the following: 1) By posting a video surrounding the monitor mishap, I’m being a hypocrite and propagating an uncontrollable event from the past. But this video is great. 2) This is video is hosted by Vimeo and not YouTube. So sue me.