Written By AW Butler
Let’s begin with a stat: Arizona has been to the sweet sixteen two of the past three seasons.
If you need a minute to get your mind around that fact, go ahead. Mull it over. Because if you’re at all familiar with this program and its past five years, you understand that this sounds a bit off. This was the program that was seven years away from relevance; the program that couldn’t find a coach.
Arizona fans are too well versed in this program’s recent history. Ad nauseum, the story has been told.
So we’ll bury the story. The past is over. The future is no longer the beacon of hope that we are all looking forward to. Wherever they needed to return to, Arizona is here. To get to this point, the Wildcats have overcome a lot; more immediately, they’ve overcome two quality teams in the Memphis Tigers and Texas Longhorns.
As one of the top three-point shooting teams in the nation, Arizona relies heavily on hitting from beyond the arc. Against Memphis, the ‘Cats shot a cool 26% from distance which would appear to be recipe for disaster. As their perimeter issues continued, the Wildcats also committed turnovers, allowing Memphis to take a late four-point lead and put Arizona in a comeback situation without their shooting touch.
Then there were the Longhorns. Big, athletic, and strong, Texas was one of the toughest defensive teams in the country. So tough that they held the country’s most efficient player, Derrick Williams, to 4-14 shooting without double teaming him. So tough, they had the sixth stingiest opponent field goal percentage (38%) in the nation. When Texas took a two point lead with less than a minute to play, an Arizona comeback seemed impossible.
The odds were against the Wildcats late on Friday and Sunday. Things got tough, the Wildcats got tougher. You already know what ultimately happened in each of these games; Arizona won. Despite the odds, despite the situation, despite the stage, and perhaps even despite themselves, Arizona advanced.
If you’ve at all been curious about the future of this program, this weekend showed you everything you’ll ever need to know. Arizona wants to be the toughest and nastiest team on the floor when it plays basketball. That hasn’t been true of many of the most recent Wildcat squads.
After the Wildcats’ win on Sunday, Sean Miller had this to say about playing March basketball, “In this tournament, the toughest teams survive. Nastiness; it’s required.”
I’m pretty sure that forcing a five-second violation with fifteen ticks left, executing a pick-and-roll for the game winning layup and-one, or swatting away the potential game-tying shot is nasty. And an un-touted freshman point guard picking up the slack for an All-American power forward?
So indeed this program will return to the sweet sixteen for the second time in three years and the fifteenth time in school history. While this could arguably be the sweetest of these appearances, it is no time to succumb to the happy-to-be-there syndrome. There’s work yet to be done.
From a room somewhere deep inside of the Bank of Oklahoma Center in Tulsa, after hitting the game winner, Derrick Williams said, “We got more games to win. Two down, four more to go.”