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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Commentary: They’re just too likable

Michael Ignatov / Arizona Daily Wildcat

University of Arizona meets University of California in an NCAA mens basketball game at McKale Center, Tucson, Ariz., Jan. 31, 2010. California up 34-32 at the half.
Michael Ignatov
Michael Ignatov / Arizona Daily Wildcat University of Arizona meets University of California in an NCAA men’s basketball game at McKale Center, Tucson, Ariz., Jan. 31, 2010. California up 34-32 at the half.

The crowd felt compelled to stand after consecutive baskets, unleash a scream for free throws and fist pump through defensive gems.

Three-pointers brought a grin to Bill Murray’s face to scrunch his eye black UA sticker — like McKale’s Jack Nicholson for the afternoon.

Another over-capacity crowd of 14,629 arrived early and stayed late for the big-time college basketball atmosphere.

Fans couldn’t chant loud enough, jump high enough or be big enough, prompting head coach Sean Miller to call it “”as electric as it can be in any building in college basketball.””

But why?

Why did students line up at 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning? Certainly not just because first place in the Pacific 10 Conference was on the line in January.

Why did 84 people buy standing-room-only tickets? Certainly not to see any future first-round NBA Draft picks.

They like this team. They must.

“”I think it’s our young talent,”” UA point guard Nic Wise said when asked why this team is so likable. “”We’ve had Chase (Budinger) and Jordan (Hill) and guys like that in the past and it’s still never been this crazy. I think it’s the young guys they see working hard. They bring excitement to our team. Especially Momo.””

Lamont ‘Momo’ Jones  — wearing a t-shirt that read  “”Fam 1st Harlem’s Finest NYC”” — had tons of emotion after the game, with fans becoming family.

“”It was a game that everyone dreamed of, playing for the No. 1 spot, packed house, no seats in the crowd,”” Jones said. “”Just to see (that) everyone has our back is a great feeling.””

They’re young, energetic and still an underdog to everyone.

Growing up before everyone’s eyes, Miller credited everyone’s eyes for the reason they’re growing up.

“”Well, I really want to credit Arizona,”” Miller said as he opened his press conference. “”In particular our fans: When people talk to me about McKale, I guess I really saw it here today. I thought the energy in the building just had such a great effect in our ability to continue to play hard.””

Four weeks ago, to the day, in this same building with those same players, the Wildcats suffered their worst loss in McKale Center history — a 99-69 embarrassment from BYU that now truly feels like it happened last decade.

Knowing that the BYU loss did, in fact, happen this season, the popular question became: Did anybody ever imagine Arizona’s young guns developing into first-place talent?

“”I did know we could get better because we couldn’t get much worse,”” Miller said. “”We have a lot of upside of where we came from because of the low starting point.””

It’s the upside from the underdog.

People like this team for Derrick Williams, fighting off two Bears for a jump bull that extended past the whistle.

People like this team for Kevin ‘No Easy Buckets’ Parrom, diving on a loose ball and calling a timeout to show some high basketball IQ for a freshman. He finished with an impressive seven defensive rebounds.

People like this team for Jamelle Horne’s two big-time defensive stops and the incredible interior pass that fed Williams a dunk. He finished with four assists, zero turnovers and most importantly didn’t foul in the final seconds.

The final buzzer sounded and nobody wanted to leave. Center Alex Jacobson gave Wilbur a chest bump while Murray snapped photos with the cheerleaders.

A wave of text messages, Facebook updates and tweets proclaiming bragging rights atop the Pac-10 immediately followed the final whistle.

You live for this.

“”In the four years I’ve been here, I don’t think we’ve had a chance to play for the No. 1 spot,”” Wise said. “”There would come a point in the Pac-10, teams wouldn’t want to play us because we have our system rolling.””

Nobody can overstate Wise’s role on this team. He’s as important to the Wildcats as John Wall is to Kentucky.

And now with a supporting cast, Wise can lean on his teammates for support, which was needed against Cal.

“”This is the best win of our season because of who we played,”” Miller said. “”It’s always interesting to see how your team plays in big moments. We really answered the bell.””

You’ve got to like that.

 — Bryan Roy is an interdisciplinary studies junior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu. Follow him at Twitter.com/BryanJRoy.

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