These Cats boggle the mind.
Photo by Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE

Remember those lowered expectations for Arizona Basketball in 2012? Do you recall coming to terms with the close-but-no-cigar finishes?

Toss it all out with the congealed nacho dip from your Super Bowl party. The Wildcats have brought back optimism in a big way.

After splitting each weekend in the first half of the Pac-12 season the Cats swept what the standings say is the toughest road trip on the schedule. It wasn’t just unlikely; it made zero sense.

Against Cal the UA shot better from 3-point range (64%) than 2-point range (53%) or 1-point range (52%). On Saturday the Wildcats scored 56 points on 38% shooting and beat Stanford by double digits in both categories.

A freshman who didn’t have more than four points in any conference game scored eight against the Bears. A guy who had a total of three blocked shots since Christmas had four against the Cardinal and six for the trip. Angelo Chol is pleased to meet you, Pacific-12 Basketball Conference.

With 3:41 remaining and the score tied Thursday night Arizona forced Cal to miss its final seven field goal attempts with the help of two blocked shots. Two days later Stanford shot 25% for the entire game. A .250 batting average gets you benched even in baseball.

We’ve been waiting all year for a go-to guy to emerge. It turns out the go-to guy is the team defense.

Now, I’m not going to get all Pac-12 championship crazy. I still expect Washington to drop no more than two games the rest of the way which means the Cats would have to run the table (including in Seattle) to share the championship.

But an NCAA tournament at-large bid? It is off the Wish List and back on the To Do List.

The model is last year’s USC squad, a team that finished tied for 4th in the Pac-10 and still made the field of 68. Here’s how those Trojans compare with these Wildcats:

Overall Conf. Pac Trnmt. Road RPI
2011 USC 19-14 10-8 1-1 5-8 67
2012 ARIZONA 16-8 7-4 6-3 85

The UA’s RPI number is from last week and will certainly go up after the two wins. The key the rest of the way is to take care of business at home. The good news is the Cats have four of the last seven games at home. The bad news is Arizona currently has a better conference record on the road (4-2) than at McKale (3-2).

Colorado and Utah this week, USC and UCLA at the end of the month. Win those games, take care of Washington State and ASU on the road, budget for one horrible shooting night, and things are looking pretty good at 21-10 (12-6) with seven or eight road wins.

The team embraced and thrived in the underdog role this past weekend. Can these Wildcats adjust to being the favorite in every remaining game except at Washington?

This group’s margin for error has always been thin and it got even thinner with the list of available (and reliable) players being trimmed to seven. It’s not going to help that teams like Colorado will have plenty of prep time to try and exploit Arizona’s two-man bench.

Is there a way to believe your team can make the NCAA tournament without being disappointed if they don’t?

No?

All right then. Bring on the hope, expectation, anxiety and fun.

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Scott Terrell is emotionally reinvested. Discuss diversification strategies on Twitter and Facebook.