Twenty in a row!
Here are 20 things to think about as UA fans celebrate 20 wins and hope for more.
1. The first bailout game goes to Nick Johnson
After a streak built on sharing the ball the Wildcats went collectively cold against the Utes with the exception of one Nick Johnson. Take out Johnson’s 9-for-18 shooting and the rest of the team shot just 36% from the floor. The other four starters only hit 31% of their field goals and barely scored 30 points between them. Even the most unselfish of teams sometimes needs a player to take over and Sunday was one of those times.
2. The 2014 Cats now own the school record for consecutive wins in a single season
Win number 20 broke the tie with Lute Olson’s 1993 and 1998 teams.
3. The old record-holders lost at the same point in the season
Both the ’93 and ’98 squads went 17-1 in Pac-10 play, with each team’s one conference loss coming in the first game of March.
4. Things didn’t end well for either of those teams
You can’t be a bad team and win 19 straight games, but bad things sometimes happen to good teams, including a couple of the most notorious losses in UA hoops history. The 1993 team was the No. 2 seed that lost to Santa Clara in the first round of the NCAA tournament while the ’98 Cats were the defending champs who got triangle-and-two’d by Utah in the Elite Eight.
5. Neither Santa Clara nor Utah has beaten Arizona since
The Wildcats have won three straight against Santa Clara and seven in row versus the Utes. So take that.
6. That has nothing to do with this year’s team
The point isn’t that it’s bad to win a lot of games in a row. The point is that it’s really hard to win a championship.
7. The 20 wins are still technically not the longest win streak in school history
From Feb. 7, 1914 through Jan. 31, 1917 the UA played 22 basketball games and won them all. No, Arizona wasn’t playing a college schedule back then but they kept score and the games are included in the program’s all-time win total.
8. The Wildcats of a century ago are worth remembering (even if they weren’t all called Wildcats)
The 1914 team was still known as the Varsity but their coach was not a random name lost to history. Pop McKale ran those early basketball teams and the father of UA athletics has his name on the building where the current streak lives. There’s no reason not to honor McKale’s achievements from a hundred years ago, even if he couldn’t get Kansas on the schedule.
9. Hack-a-Gord is coming soon to an arena near year
Back to worrying about this year’s streak, Aaron Gordon shoots 49% from the field (and it was 51% before the Utah game) but only 45% from the free-throw line. Teams with calculators will soon figure out it’s foolish to let him get up a shot in the lane.
10. This team’s free-throw shooting is all about who takes them
It’s easy to look at the Wildcats’ free-throw percentage (66.5%, 10th in the Pac-12) and say it’ll cost the team when it counts. The key will be getting the ball in the right guys’ hands in crucial situations. Johnson is an 80% shooter. Kaleb Tarczewski is at 78% (and he’s shooting 86% in his last nine games). Brandon Ashley and Gabe York are decent at 75% and 72% respectively. T.J. McConnell…hold on.
11. T.J. McConnell is a good free-throw shooter
This gets its own section because it may help a Cat fan or two sleep better at night. When you see that McConnell’s shooting 64% from the line you assume he’s not any good but he’s a victim of sample size. T.J. has only taken 28 free throws on the season. He’s hitting at an 86% clip in Pac-12 play. In fact, his problem was really only two games. McConnell went 0-for-5 from the line against Cal Poly and Long Beach State to open the season. He’s at 78% since, or 2.5 months worth of games. Problem solved.
12. Arizona has two bad shooters who take a lot of free throws
The Wildcats wouldn’t be where they are today without the energy, athleticism and defense of Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. The two freshmen play an aggressive style and as a result are second and third on the team in free-throw attempts. The problem is they shoot a low percentage (63% for Hollis-Jefferson) so they’re dragging the team’s numbers down. Give the ball to your upperclassman guards in crunch time and you’ll be fine.
13. 3-point shooting may be the stat to watch
The UA is shooting 36% from behind the arc, which is middle of the Pac, but it was not a good week. The Cats made just six total 3s at home against Colorado and Utah on 29 attempts (21%), which isn’t a good sign before heading out on the road. York leads the team at 40.3% but he’s only made 28% over the last four games. Ashley is shooting 40% from deep but he’s had just 25 looks all season. If the shots aren’t falling from outside the Wildcats will have to lean extra heavily on offensive rebounds and second-chance points.
14. The defense is still great
When the Wildcats had the ball against Utah you heard words like “sloppy,” “ugly” and “yikes.” But the Utes had an 11-minute stretch with one field goal in each half. Add in Colorado making a single basket in the first eight minutes of Thursday’s game there’s no doubt where this team makes its (metaphorical) money.
15. Sir Thomas Jackson isn’t the only knight in the Pac-12
One of the referees at the Arizona/Utah game was Sir Allen Conner. Huzzah!
16. If Arizona doesn’t lose this week the Pac-12 race is over at the midway point
If the UA sweeps the Bay, the only team within two games of first place would be UCLA and the Bruins don’t have another head-to-head chance to pick up a game on Arizona. If there’s going to be any drama in this conference it needs to happen right now.
17. The race for an undefeated regular season won’t be over till it’s over
Even if the Cats survive Stanford and Cal there would still be five road games left and none of them involve Washington State or USC. Since Arizona ends the regular season at the Oregon schools there won’t be any point when you can say, “There. Now the Wildcats will cruise.”
18. That said, if a Pac-12 team is going to go 18-0 this is the year to do it
There are no other ranked teams. Cal is in second place and the Bears just got swept in L.A. UCLA is tied for second and they lost to Utah. You have the ideal condition of one great team in a conference that’s not all the way back.
19. 20-0 isn’t enough to own the national spotlight
Even though Arizona is undefeated the Cats aren’t alone. Syracuse is also perfect so far in its first ACC season and Wichita State is carrying the lossless banner for the mid-majors. Could Syracuse start to take votes away from the Wildcats? It’ll be interesting to see what the voters do if the Orange get by Wake Forest and Duke this week.
20. The only way to improve on 20-0 is get to 21-0
So take that.
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