Whoever ordered the Arizona Wildcats’ basketball weekend did not hold back. Two UA wins, two Oregon losses, and a side of ASU giving up 96 points. To say the week went well is a sizable understatement.
Arizona’s two-game leap in the Pac-12 standings puts the Cats right back in the middle of the conference race.
And that makes me very wrong.
A couple weeks ago I said the Arizona/UCLA showdown was an elimination game in the quest for the Pac-12 championship. When the Wildcats lost it meant they were done. Have fun chasing the title, Ducks and Bruins!
It only took three games for all of that to be proven false.
Go ahead and let me have it. Pick your favorite cliché:
It’s not over till it’s over!
That’s why they play the games!
I can’t argue with any of it. I didn’t see this coming at all. I didn’t see the Wildcats sweeping a road trip or UCLA losing to ASU and USC. I didn’t expect Oregon to get swept any weekend.
Sometimes what you see isn’t what you get. The Cats are back tied for first in the Pac-12 standings and, even with Oregon’s schedule advantage, the playing field has been leveled. Here’s how we got here and what Arizona needs to do to win its 26th conference championship:
The blueprint for a Pac-12 crown is posting a 14-4 record. Sweep at home, split on the road, sweep your rival. Oregon went +1 by winning at UCLA to complete a road sweep. Arizona dropped to -1 (or two rungs below Oregon) by losing to UCLA at home.
I thought that was it. I projected Oregon would finish 15-3 and pegged Arizona at 13-5 or 12-6. Try and make up for it in March but say goodbye to any chance of a 1-seed.
Things changed when the Ducks got blown out by Stanford on Wednesday without injured point guard Dominic Artis. Arizona responded by gutting out a win at Washington on Thursday to set up a key Saturday. That’s the Saturday that went exactly according to the UA’s script.
Oregon dropped the second game on the Bay Area trip to fall back to even on the blueprint scale. Solomon Hill rained down 3s from all over Washington State’s gym and Arizona had a road sweep to erase its home loss. Suddenly it again looks like 14-4 will win this league.
How does the UA get there? All of the five remaining home games are absolutely must-win. Then you budget one loss on each of the final two road trips. If Oregon loses at Washington and at Colorado you have a co-championship.
Arizona’s gaudy 19-2 overall record also means big dreams on a national level are back in play. Even with a couple more Pac-12 losses the Wildcats would be 26-4 with wins over ACC-leading Miami and SEC-annihilating Florida. That resume would be very hard to ignore when choosing the top seed in the West Region.
The trick now is completing that resume. As quickly as the Cats got back into the race they could fall back out with another loss at McKale. Stanford and Cal will be bringing a lot of confidence with them to Tucson.
Last week Arizona returned to finding a way to win. This week the Cats return to playing for a conference championship.
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