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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

No bigger test: Hoops needs to win out Pac-10 tourney or snap streak of 25 straight appearances

Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Nic Wise iced the game in double-overtime with a layup with just over one second left to beat the USC Trojans 86-84 Saturday in McKale Center. It was Senior Day for the Cats as Nic Wise played his last game in McKale.
Mike Christy
Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Wildcat Nic Wise iced the game in double-overtime with a layup with just over one second left to beat the USC Trojans 86-84 Saturday in McKale Center. It was Senior Day for the ‘Cats as Nic Wise played his last game in McKale.

It’s hanging on by a Staple.

Arizona’s active streak of 25 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances — only two shy of North Carolina’s 27 — faces an uphill climb today in Staples Center.

Too late to secure an at-large bid, the No. 4-seeded Wildcats (16-14, 10-8 Pacific 10 Conference) must win three games in three days to win the conference tournament or face the inevitable realities of playing in the National Invitation Tournament. 

The facts have never been more clear-cut.

The Streak has never been in more danger.

“”It will be tough to take (not making the NCAA tournament), but we knew it would be hard coming into the season with our young team,”” said UA point guard Nic Wise after Saturday’s win against USC. “”We’ve never been in this situation before.””

Today’s 1 p.m. tipoff strikes eagerness and hunger even deeper than when the Wildcats and No. 5-seeded Bruins (13-17, 8-10) stood as predominate powers atop the Pac-10 in the ‘90s and early 2000s.

One of the weakest fields in decades awaits the cut-throat fight-for-survival environment in Los Angeles where nobody is given anything.

Nothing is guaranteed.

“”I think everybody is going to bring their A-game,”” Wise said. “”Not too many Pac-10 teams are going to get automatic bids, besides maybe Cal. For everybody else, it’s going to be all-out war to try to get that top spot.””

The only predictable storyline is a potential Pac-10 Tournament semifinal clash Friday between Washington and ASU.

Both bubble teams would presumably be playing for a spot in the NCAA Tournament — but again there’s no guarantee how many at-large bids will be available, especially to a conference shocked by nonconference losses of all sorts. 

“”I think Washington and Arizona State have played the best recently,”” said UA coach Sean Miller. “”When you look at the last four weeks of our conference season, both of them have really emerged and been consistent.””

Arizona and UCLA aren’t the only nationally recognized programs suffering through down seasons. Connecticut, Indiana and North Carolina, all recent dancers the past March, are also expected to miss the NCAA Tournament.

Those five teams have won 21 of the past 46 national championships.

“”There are going to be years like that even for name-brand programs,”” said Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples on ESPN Wednesday. “”It is really hard to stay on top and maintain, especially now in this climate where you have one-and-dones and team chemistry can change with the tip of the hat.””

While their confidence sits sky-high after three consecutive come-from-behind victories, the Wildcats haven’t won more than four straight games all season.

“”Going in as underdogs is always good; personally I think going in on top everyone wants to come for you,”” said UA forward Derrick Williams. “”So I think it’s good for our team coming in as underdogs. We’ve beat Cal before, we beat UCLA, we beat Arizona State. We’ve beaten all the teams that they say that are going to be in the finals.””

When asked if he thought the regular season met expectations, Miller said the Wildcats’ 16 wins was the best-case scenario.

“”I don’t want to say ‘overachieved,’ but we’ve come in right around where everyone would have hoped under the circumstances,”” Miller said. “”Hopefully, our best basketball is yet to be played.””

 

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