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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Sports Editor Ezra Amacher shares thoughts on Wildcats’ season

Sports Editor Ezra Amacher shares thoughts on Wildcats season

There’s not a whole lot to do in Pullman, Washington, on a Wednesday night in early February. Sure, Bill Walton likes to claim the Pac-12 Conference has no truck stops, but Pullman—the home of Washington State University—comes pretty close to resembling one.

That’s where the Arizona men’s basketball team was sent in the middle of this conference season and I was crazy enough to follow them there. Not many people seemed eager to join us.

A half-hour before the Wildcats tipped off against the Cougars in Washington State’s Beasley Coliseum, the arena with more them 11,500 seats was mostly empty. Eventually, a handful of people made their ways over to the arena, including a good number of Arizona fans.

Yes, even in the corner of southeastern Washington there exist plenty of Wildcats supporters who crave the chance to see their team play in person.

If any singular observation arose from a year of covering the team in Tucson and on the road, it’s the incredible popularity of Arizona basketball on the West Coast. When Arizona took the court at schools like Stanford University and USC, the team was cheered on by a split crowd.

And at California, Washington and UCLA—not to mention Arizona’s mammoth December meeting with Gonzaga University—home fans arrived in droves expecting to see the West Coast’s next-best show outside the Golden State Warriors. Arizona, for its part, usually showed up to play.

The Wildcats displayed particular fondness for the state of Washington, where they went 3-0.

When Arizona erased a double-digit halftime lead at Gonzaga and closed out a win in the final seconds, the team ran off the court to a chorus of “U of A” chants.

The celebration continued in the locker room. In the underpass of McCarthey Athletic Center, ESPN broadcaster Jay Bilas waited to chat with a team that had hopes of putting together another dominating season.

But some things don’t go as planned. A month later, Arizona traveled to Los Angeles hoping to start the Pac-12 season off on a strong note. Instead, the team was delivered a pair of heartbreaking losses.

Bryce Alford’s last-second shot did the Wildcats in at Pauley Pavilion before USC topped Arizona in an epic four-overtime affair.

I don’t think any Arizona player looked as crushed all season as Gabe York did after Arizona’s loss to UCLA. Standing outside the opposing locker room, York refused to make eye contact with the half dozen or so media members. His voice was barely picked up by iPhone recording apps.

When Arizona closed out its regular season travels with road trips to Boulder, Colorado, and Salt Lake City, the team’s excitement of playing in tough, opposing venues had waned.

After a close loss to Utah, all Kadeem Allen could do was shrug and point forward to the postseason, as if the magic might come back once the calendar flipped from February to March. Instead, Arizona’s final two trips of the season were abrupt ones.

The last Wildcats games I covered at the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas featured a team lacking the confidence of a group destined for a deep run in March. When Arizona defeated Colorado in the first round of the tournament, the UA locker room post-game resembled a morgue. No one wanted to talk.

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