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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

OSU win could catapult Wildcats

Arizona men’s basketball needed a spark.

Until Thursday, the Wildcats were drifting through their season, not yet deemed a Pac-12 leader, but not yet doomed for the doldrums of the conference.

Arizona was stuck in mediocrity characteristic of a young team lacking a superstar. Halfway through the year, Arizona was at a standstill.

In a wide-open conference, the Wildcats were hurting for a season-changing victory full of toughness and emotion. Slump-busters were welcome and manhood had to be tested.

Arizona’s emotional overtime win against Oregon State on Thursday night in McKale Center was the perfect remedy.

The Wildcats withstood Ahmad Starks’ white hot late-game shooting as he drilled 3-pointer after 3-pointer in the faces of anyone who decided to take on the challenge.

They overcame Jared Cunningham’s 22 points, career-high four 3-pointers and constant ability to get to the line.

Solomon Hill, Kyle Fogg and Jesse Perry played through four fouls late in the game to lead their team to victory. Arizona wasn’t bothered by Hill and Perry’s combined 10 points and 16 rebounds. None of that mattered.

“Being strong at the end of the game is an important quality to have,” head coach Sean Miller said after the game.

The Wildcats developed that quality on Thursday. They held the Beavers to 0–for-7 shooting in the overtime period and wouldn’t back down from OSU’s scrappiness.

After Fogg bumped Cunningham following his game-ending and-1, a scuffle broke out and not one Wildcat was ready to concede defeat.

Miller even lost his tie as he entered the fray. While that seems like a minor detail, it’s hard not to come together as a team when members sees their coach in the trenches fighting for his guys.

“You know coach, man, he’s a real intense guy,” Brendon Lavender said. “He loves to win. So to see that passion, it really pumps us up. It’s a great feeling.”

While fights should never be condoned, Arizona needed a game like Thursday’s. From the late-game scuffle to the lights-out defense in overtime, this could be Arizona’s turning point. This could be the game that the Wildcats look back at and say “that’s when we clicked and really came together.”

Albert Einstein once said, “Adversity introduces a man to himself.” When a team overcomes that adversity — Starks’ shooting, Cunningham’s play, Hill and Perry’s ineffectiveness, a tough L.A. trip a week earlier — the effect is even that much greater.

Back in January 2009 when Houston’s Aubrey Coleman stepped on Chase Budinger’s face, Arizona pulled together, won the game in overtime and went on to defy the odds against coach Russ Pennell to make it to the Sweet 16.

Following that victory against Houston, the Wildcats rattled off six straight wins, capped by an upset win against then-No. 6 UCLA.
While that was a much more talented Arizona team than this year’s squad, that Bruins team featured the likes of Darren Collison and Jrue Holiday. You may have heard of them.

The point is, games like Thursday night’s have a way of bringing teams closer. They bring teams together so that when they’re in another trying time during Pac-12 play, they can remember that time they fended off Starks, Cunningham and Oregon State in McKale to snatch a much-needed win.

Arizona may not have a NCAA Tournament bid-worthy resume right now, but if Thursday’s win has the impact that it’s capable of, that could change soon enough.

— Mike Schmitz is a marketing senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @WildcatHoops.

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