The Arizona Wildcats had a little breathing room in the race for the Pac-12 championship but the air was sucked out of McKale Center Sunday night thanks to a career night from the conference’s leading scorer.
With an eye toward the top of the national rankings the Cats finally caught the major-upset bug that’s been sweeping the nation. What does this do to the UA’s title chances?
Cal’s Allen Crabbe torched the UA for 31 points, the most he had scored in a Pac-12 game in his three-year career. Sean Miller probably turned in his Player of the Year vote immediately after the game.
How do you make 12 of 15 shots in a major college basketball game when you’re not 7-foot-3 and standing under the rim? And it’s not like Crabbe was “only” scoring; he also pulled down seven boards and passed out five assists.
As good as Crabbe and Justin Cobbs (21 points, 8-14 shooting) were, this becomes the first “bad loss” on Arizona’s resume. Do you just chalk it up to running into a player who caught fire next to a guy who was order-the-skin-grafts-I’ve-got-third-degree-burns hot?
Or were the Wildcats perhaps looking ahead to the polls coming out on Monday? By not playing Saturday they saw No. 3 Michigan and No. 5 Kansas lose. All told four of the six teams ranked above Arizona lost last week. Did the Cats get caught up thinking, We could be No. 2 next week. And why aren’t we No. 1?
I know I did. It would’ve been a pretty straight-forward argument. After the Saturday’s upsets you could have Duke, Gonzaga, Arizona and Miami as the top 4 teams. Who beat Duke? Miami. Who beat Miami? Arizona. And since Gonzaga doesn’t have any wins against the other top teams, Arizona is No. 1.
So much for that.
Whatever the cause, the one-game lead over Oregon and UCLA in the standings is gone. The Wildcats have given back the advantage they received when the Ducks’ Dominic Artis got injured and the Bruins again earned the wrath of Bill Walton.
Now we have a dogfight atop the Pac-12 standings. Using the 14-4 scale Arizona (one road sweep minus two home losses), Oregon (one road sweep minus one road get-swept minus one home loss) and UCLA (one road sweep minus two home losses) are all -1. That projects to co- (or tri-) champions with 12-5 records.
So the Cal loss isn’t a complete backslide. Two weeks ago it looked like the Cats’ Pac-12 hopes had flatlined. The margin for error is now gone but the opportunity to win this thing remains.
What doesn’t feel right is losing two conference games at home. You can’t do that and expect to win the Pac-12, right? Well, it last happened in 2006 when UCLA finished with a 14-4 record and won the league by one game. The Bruins then cruised to a Pac-10 tournament title, earned a 2-seed in the NCAA tournament with a 27-6 overall mark and made it all the way to the championship game. So don’t drive up Mt. Lemmon and dive off Windy Point just yet.
Next up for the UA is a trip to the mountain states and that might not be a bad thing. While the Wildcats have been losing these two games at McKale they’ve also compiled a four-game road winning streak.
Just hope that Sabatino Chen doesn’t order the Crabbe legs.
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