Arizona’s dominant victory over Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament round of 32 wiped away any anxiety that may have been lingering after the Weber State game.
Recent history warns us, however, not to get lulled into a false sense of security as the Wildcats prepare to face San Diego State for a second time this season.
This weekend was another lesson in fighting the My team is going to play exactly like this the rest of the season! feeling. After Arizona was sluggish against the WSU Wildcats nervousness crept in among fans about the next game. Now that the Wildcats were dominant versus Gonzaga the temptation is to think they’re going to steamroll their way to Dallas.
Momentum only carries you so far. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson isn’t going to go 8-for-8 from the free throw line in every game. Arizona isn’t always going to force 21 turnovers and have four players with at least five assists.
(That last stat is crazy. I should have Sean Miller come over and teach my kids how to share.)
There are plenty of examples of major perception shifts in the last few weeks. After a five-game stretch with losses to Cal and ASU plus narrow escapes against Oregon and Utah it looked like the team was falling apart. Then – BOOM – three straight blowout wins against Colorado, Cal and Stanford and all was right in the world.
In Las Vegas the Cats looked like world-beaters for two games before suddenly forgetting how to play defense against UCLA. You just don’t know what you’re going to get from game to game. That’s sports. That’s life.
There is no reason whatsoever not to be excited to see what the Wildcats can do in Anaheim. The main problems from the tournament opener, be it turnovers or missed free throws, were corrected in the second game. T.J. McConnell, the one guy who really struggled against Weber State, bounced back to hit three 3-pointers and post a perfect 6-to-0 assist-to-turnover ratio.
None of that guarantees a good performance on Thursday but it’s the end of March and the Cats just played as well as they have all season. You can’t ask for anything more and it’s a really good feeling.
The showdown with San Diego State is interesting because it’s a rematch. If you count the exhibition game, the first time the Wildcats and Aztecs met was the fourth game of the season. Now both teams are hoping this is the fourth-last game of the season.
Playing Arizona a second time works in SDSU’s favor because they won’t be shocked by the UA’s defensive pressure. The Aztecs have experienced the Wildcat D first-hand and they were competitive against it. Arizona did win by nine in November but it was a four-point game with two minutes left and a five-point margin with 39 seconds remaining. If Nick Johnson doesn’t hit four straight free three throws (because he’s The Man) the 21-game win streak may have been over before it really began.
Another advantage for San Diego State is the location. For the first time this postseason the UA will not have a monopoly on fan support. Yes, there will be as many Arizona fans present as can snap up seats but Aztec faithful from San Diego and L.A. will be there in force, and they’ve had a one day head start on ticket acquisition.
This is why I wanted SDSU to lose to UConn in Anaheim in 2011 (which happened). I didn’t want the Aztec fans there to negate Arizona’s regional advantage (which didn’t end up helping).
SD State also has that ridiculous streak of winning 120 straight games when leading with five minutes to play. To counter that I’m all in favor of Arizona extending its streak of building a 20-point lead in two consecutive NCAA tournaments games.
The path to the Final Four certainly is not getting any easier. While other brackets are crumbling the Wildcats aren’t getting any help from lower seeds. They beat the 8-seed, now play the 4-seed and the West No. 2 is still alive.
But if things go well this week, in honor of UA alum Arte Moreno, we could call them the Arizona Wildcats of Dallas via Anaheim.
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