By AW Butler
At this point, the target is growing. There are six games remaining – four at home, two in Los Angeles – and Arizona is a top-15 team.
Now, whether they deserve that ranking is another debate, but reality is, Arizona is currently the 12th ranked team in the nation and generally teams get up to play the 12th ranked team in the nation. And this weekend is as important a weekend in Arizona basketball as there has been in five years.
With the visit of the Washington schools, arguably two of the top four teams in the conference, Arizona is the decided favorite. They’re at home, on national television, winners of six straight, and have those gaudy digits to the left of their name.
The aforementioned target is growing.
So too grows the magnitude of the weekend. Arizona needs to win these games to assert itself as the leader it wants to be. Despite his team’s success, Coach Sean Miller has been reserved with his praise, saying this isn’t a “real mature team” and that it lacks “great leadership.” On the surface, these are criticisms. But this coach is smarter than the average bear – or Romar, Howland, Bone, or Altman for that matter.
Miller is challenging his team. How much will you fight? How hard will you work? How great can you be?
What’s exciting is the best is yet to come. A team with just slightly above average talent is winning 21 of 25 and ranked 12th in the nation. Dare we venture to think what could be with two to four NBA caliber players wearing Arizona red?
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
There’s a team in maroon and a team in purple for the ‘Cats to handle this weekend. And this is more than big for the team. This is a program weekend. There’s a white out for the ESPN game on Saturday and McKale needs to be what McKale can be: loud, intimidating, advantageous.
Try this on for size: a new chant. An elongated “Zona” drawn out to metaphorically warn the opposition of what they’re in for: a methodical, consistent, relentless attack and ultimate dismantling. Just like the drone of “Zooooooo-Naaaaaaa.” Because that’s what it should mean to play in the McKale Center without wearing an Arizona jersey.
It’s the home court advantage Sean Miller has advocated and promoted since day one. It’s the home court advantage needed to take care of business when you’re the best team in your conference. Handle things at home, fight on the road.
And fight these ‘Cats have; winning four of six road contests in conference, a jumper away from five of six.
This weekend will be emblematic of the toughness Sean Miller demands of his program – from box-outs and screens to Zona Zoo and the rafters. So handling this weekend is a big deal.
How will this program handle the target?