After introducing you to a mid-major sleeper from Las Cruces, NM (New Mexico State Aggies), it’s time to shed some light on a Power 5 program. Now that my wife and I have lived in Tucson, AZ for a little over a year, it’s obvious that the majority of this city lives and dies Arizona Wildcats (18-4, 8-1) basketball. You have to drive an hour and forty-five minutes northwest of Tucson before you reach the hullabaloo of the professional sports franchises in the Phoenix area. In this city, it’s the University of Arizona and nothing else — especially when it involves the men’s basketball program.
Now that the U of A football program has officially welcomed in the Kevin Sumlin era, this city has become even more abuzz for everything Wildcats. . . And rightfully so! There’s an air of optimism for the football program that’s literally palpable here in the desert foothills.
But first and foremost, the citizens of this great city thirst for U of A’s men’s hoops. The orange roundball played at McKale Center is the talk of the town. And now that some early season struggles are behind them, these Sean Miller led Wildcats now stand alone atop the Pac-12 conference standings. Currently ranked No. 11 in all the land, the Wildcats look to part ways with their loss to the Xavier Musketeers in last season’s NCAA Tournament and dribble-drive a path that firmly places them on Final Four soil inside of the Alamodome in gorgeous San Antonio, TX.
Coach Miller may think he doesn’t have any control over his players, but there’s zero doubt that they’re getting the job done in Pac-12 play. After an 80-77 loss to the Colorado Buffaloes in Boulder, CO on January 6th, breaking Zona’s nine-game winning streak, Miller took a jab at his guys. As passionate of a head coach that there is in the country, it isn’t strange to see the fiery side of Coach Miller. But this was more than that. . . It was a wakeup call to his kids! I think they heard the message loud and clear.
“You always want your team to play for you as the coach, and our guys, they really struggle playing for me — they really do,” Miller said. “I can’t get them to play hard. We do it for a while. I know we’ve had a win streak and we also have a good team. We have a lot of talent.
“With our team, it’s really hard to get our guys to run as fast as they can. That’s not them. That’s me. I have a hard time reaching our guys. I can’t reach them, I really can’t.”
To date, Arizona’s loss to CU is their lone blemish in conference play. On Thursday Night at an always wild and raucous McKale Center, the Wildcats fed off their home crowd to avenge their loss to Colorado, 80-71. This roster is loaded with Final Four and national championship caliber talent. In fact, Zona can Bear Down on their opponents with four studs averaging double-figures in scoring per night.
From bottom to top on the stat sheet, center Dusan Ristic (7’0″ and 245-pounds) packs a little punch in the paint with 10.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. The “Gifted One”, sophomore guard Rawle Alkins (6’5″ and 220-pounds) delivers the goods with 14.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg, as well as 2.9 dimes per game. These last two freaks of nature and their performances throughout the NCAA Tourney will make or break Zona’s fortunes come the end of March and beginning of April. It’s a one-and-done tournament, so consistency and good health are vital to a Final Four run. If it was an easy task to win four-straight games against formidable programs to reach the mountaintop, the Tourney wouldn’t be the greatest sporting event in the galaxy.
My first freak of nature — freshman forward Deandre Ayton, standing 7-foot-1 and tipping the scales at 250 bills. Are you kidding me? A freshman? Indeed, he is. Mr. Ayton not only nets nearly 20-points per night, he waxes the glass poetically while averaging a double-double. His numbers read 19.7 ppg, 10.9 rpg, and even 1.5 dishes on the interior. Wow!
Last but not least. My second freak of nature, and the Cats’ leader on the hardwood — Allonzo Trier. He’s a versatile lethal weapon that can stroke it from the land of plenty, put it on the deck on his way to the tin, or pull-up from 10-feet with his mid-range arsenal. Mr. Trier, the 6’5″ and 205-pound junior swingman, will be Zona’s catalyst come March Madness. He drops 19.9 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per night. And he makes it look easy. . . Wings, beer, Mr. Trier!
Coach Miller, this team has your back. If the Wildcats can trudge their way through Rounds 1 & 2 of the Madness, look for them to roll out the red carpet on their way to the Final Four in San Antonio. And if they reach the promised land, they’ll have as good of a chance as any to cut down the nets and declare themselves champions.