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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

COMIC: Rat’s Nest #3
Olivia MoreyFebruary 28, 2024
 

Column: Arizona has hit stride at right time

Wesley Snipes uttered the now famous line, “ever play roulette … always bet on black,” in the early 1990s film “Passenger 57,” but fans in Las Vegas, Nev., should probably bet on red this week.

March Madness is here, and Arizona men’s basketball is playing so well, it looks like a shoe-in to win big in Las Vegas at the 2015 Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament.

The No. 5 Wildcats (28-3, 16-2 Pac-12 Conference) beat Stanford 91-69 to win their eighth game in a row and 38th consecutive home game, and finished undefeated at home for the second straight season.

Arizona is playing its best basketball of the season.

“I’d say you could say so,” Arizona guard T.J. McConnell said. “We’ve been playing really good basketball, but it doesn’t stop here. We have to keep playing like that in Vegas and just like I said, take it one day at a time.”

Arizona won its second straight, outright Pac-12 championship by three games over Oregon, a team that lost by 18 in Eugene, Ore., and by 34 in Tucson.

During the current eight-game win streak, the Wildcats only played one close game, at Utah, where the Utes had won 18 straight.

The UA won four games on the road, improving its road record to 8-3. It also beat good teams such as UCLA, Utah and Stanford and, perhaps more importantly, cured its one Achilles heel of overlooking bad teams: The UA pounded Washington, Washington State, USC, Colorado and California. 

If you think about it, the Wildcats are undefeated against good teams, similar to the Kentucky Wildcats. Their only losses came at UNLV, Oregon State and ASU. There are no more road games for the UA, which is 3-0 in neutral site games, in the one-and-done postseason.

The Wildcats celebrated the championship Saturday but have since shifted their focus toward winning their first conference tournament championship since 2002.

“It’s over; regular season is over,” Arizona men’s basketball coach Sean Miller said. “We feel good about what we’ve done. It’s on to one thing, and that’s the Pac-12 tournament. It’s not about the NCAA. It’s about getting ready, being at our best, enjoying March Madness, and going out there and playing really well.”

While the Wildcats have turned the page, they don’t want to make drastic changes.

Sure, they had a longer win streak to open the season, 12, but most of those came against teams such as Mt. St. Mary’s, Cal State Northridge and Gardner-Webb. Plus, only one of those was on the road, against UTEP, which is No. 74 in the RPI.

“We have this motto: ‘Do what we do,’ and we kind of stick by that day in and day out and each game,” McConnell said, “And we’re not trying to change who we are. We’re just trying to play Arizona basketball every day.”

Not only have the Wildcats won eight in a row since their loss to ASU, they’ve also won 14 of their last 15.

Forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has slid in the starting lineup and become more of a threat on offense since the Wildcats’ winning streak at the beginning of the season. Guard Gabe York has adjusted to his sixth-man role, and McConnell, center Kaleb Tarczewski and forward Brandon Ashley are playing their best ball of the season.

There’s no scary opponent for the Wildcats. Their only conference losses are at Oregon State and ASU, and they beat them both handily at home.

Arizona is the safe bet to win in Las Vegas.

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Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

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