Arizona Wildcats want to end moniker of being a basketball school



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The Arizona football team begins its 2013 season against Northern Arizona at Arizona Stadium on Aug. 30, which is 12 days away. From now until then, this Web site will count down the days with facts about the Wildcats, their players, coaching staff and opponents. This is not a ranking, only a list of 100 facts and observances related to the 2013 Arizona football team and coach Rich Rodriguez.

A special thanks to Joe Pyritz, a former KGUN-TV anchor and cameraman, who allowed me to use photos he took yesterday during the UA’s “Meet the Team” practice/scrimmage event at Arizona Stadium.

The view from the Sands Club (high-priced booster seating) within the new Lowell-Stevens Football Facility (photo by former KGUN-TV anchor and cameraman Joe Pyritz)

The view from the Sands Club (high-priced booster seating) within the new Lowell-Stevens Football Facility (photo by former KGUN-TV anchor and cameraman Joe Pyritz)

Although Arizona’s football season starts only 12 days from now, and a “Meet the Team” practice/scrimmage event was held last night, the biggest news yesterday was the verbal commitment of Class of 2014 five-star power forward Craig Victor to the UA hoops team.

My short four-paragraph blurb about Victor yesterday drew 43 Facebook likes as of now and was re-Tweeted twice. Day 13 in our countdown yesterday drew 12 Facebook likes and was not re-Tweeted.

Anthony Gimino’s post at TucsonCitizen.com about Victor’s commitment drew 42 Facebook likes and his story about the Arizona’s practice/scrimmage at Arizona Stadium drew 23.

On a few Internet message boards I’ve read “at least basketball starts soon” in reply to Arizona’s quarterback controversy and the Wildcats’ fourth-place prediction in the Pac-12 South. Arizona has never been to the Rose Bowl, which is the cause of all of this. Winning the Pac-12 title is what it will take for Arizona fans to get over their wait-and-see attitude when it comes to football.

Lute Olson made Arizona a basketball school and Sean Miller is following suit. The UA is much like Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina and Kansas in that regard. Schools such as Ohio State, Florida, Michigan and Louisville enjoy sustained success in both sports.

Alabama, USC and Penn State are traditionally powerful in football but weak in basketball.

Arizona's stylish new uniforms are on display at the Lowell-Stevens Facility (Joe Pyritz photo)

Arizona’s stylish new uniforms are on display at the Lowell-Stevens Facility (Joe Pyritz photo)

Arizona’s football team rivaled or was more popular than the basketball program until Olson created a frenzy by going to the NCAA tournament in only his second season in 1984-85. He then recruited Cholla star Sean Elliott and the UA won its first Pac-10 title in 1985-86.

Larry Smith’s team had a memorable season in 1986, his last at Arizona, finishing 9-3, beating ASU 34-17 at Arizona Stadium and winning the school’s first bowl game against North Carolina in the Aloha Bowl. Smith left for conference foe USC, bruising the psyche of some UA fans. Dick Tomey went 4-4-3 in his first season in 1987, and in that same school year, Olson took the UA to the Final Four.

The mantra of Arizona as a “basketball school” became official at that point.

The football team showed flashes of gaining on the popularity scale in 1993 with the Desert Swarm defense and a 10-2 record, including a win over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl, and in 1998 with the school’s best record of 12-1.

But the combined record of the seasons afterward (1994 and 1999) was only 14-10. In the last five games of those seasons, the UA had a combined record of 3-7. The Wildcats could not keep the motor running. Tomey, without a commitment from the UA brass to improve the football facilities, was forced out in 2000 and John Mackovic was hired.

Meanwhile, Arizona’s basketball team reached the national championship game against Duke that same school year. That was the knockout punch. “There’s always basketball season” became a popular saying in Tucson, which must create some anger with the football players and coaches to this day.

Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, a popular coach nationally, could turn the tide some for the football team. He has the support of the impressive Lowell-Stevens Football Facility and a stadium that looks more big-time than it did a short time ago.

“Just look at the stadium; you remember four years ago, what it looked like?” Arizona linebacker Jake Fischer told Daniel Berk of The Arizona Daily Star. “We had some high school bleachers down there (south part of the end zone). We didn’t have the big scoreboard. It’s amazing how far it has come.”

Arizona’s football program received a boost in 1976 when the construction of the east side of Arizona Stadium increased the capacity from 40,000 to 57,000. That positioned the UA for a move to the Pac-10 in 1978. Arizona’s coach in its first two years in the conference was Tony Mason, whose recruiting transgressions resulted in Arizona serving an NCAA probation in 1983 and 1984 with Smith as coach.

The UA remained competitive under Smith and elevated its stature nationally in the two years after the probation was served. But then Smith left to USC.

It’s one thing after another for the football team and that has soured the opinion about the program for many UA fans.

They look on with optimism because of Rodriguez’s personality and the impressive new facilities, but they will believe it when they see it.

Normally fans want to sit in the 50-yard line area but many chose to sit in the new section beneath the Lowell-Stevens Facility last night

Normally fans want to sit in the 50-yard line area but many chose to sit in the new section beneath the Lowell-Stevens Facility last night (Joe Pyritz photo)

The best Arizona player to wear No. 12, according to TucsonCitizen.com’s Anthony Gimino, is quarterback Eddie Wilson (1959-61) and QB Tom Tunnicliffe (1980-83). Wilson, a UA Hall of Famer, was a third-team All-American in 1961 and an NFL player. Tunnicliffe ranks third as the school’s career passing leader with 7,618 yards.


Last year, this site and TucsonCitizen.com ran a Top 50 Games in the history of Arizona football series. I will relive that list here with less than 50 days to kickoff and add one game to it: Arizona’s improbable 49-48 win over Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl last December, which landed as No. 38 on the list. Note, after clicking on the link, you will notice last year’s ranking. The list on this page is the current ranking.

No. 12: Zendejas’ 57-yard FG ties UA record, keeps ASU out of Rose Bowl again

No. 13: Arizona blows 20-point lead and shot at the Rose Bowl with 1993 collapse at California

No. 14: UA upsets No. 2 UCLA in 1980 when Bruins appeared ready to be No. 1

No. 15: L.A. Times reporter: Arizona shows “fight of wildcats” in 1914 game vs. Occidental

No. 16: UA leads UCLA late in third quarter but loses big in 12-1 season

No. 17: Unranked Arizona upsets Ohio State, Woody Hayes in Buckeyes’ 1967 opener in Columbus

No. 18: Arizona and hasty coach Mudra lose Ultimatum Bowl to ASU in 1968

No. 19: Arizona keeps “The Streak” without loss to ASU alive in ’87 with bizarre finish that ends in tie

No. 20: Arizona fit to be tied with Cal despite leading 26-3 in third quarter

No. 21: Zendejas’ last-second 45-yard FG vs. ASU generates momentum for “The Streak” to endure

No. 22: Arizona wins its first bowl behind “Heat-seeking Missile” Chuck Cecil

No. 23: Collapse vs. Utah after leading 27-0 in fourth quarter changed the face of UA football

No. 24: UA shuts out ASU, Kush during dominating run for Sun Devils coach

No. 25: Arizona’s defense and Doug Pfaff’s last-second FG enough to upset sixth-ranked Oklahoma

No. 26: UA upsets ASU from Fiesta Bowl consideration in program’s best stretch

No. 27: Trung Canidate rushes for record 288 yards and three long TDs in ’98 shootout against ASU

No. 28: UA dominates No. 3 SMU, highest ranked non-conference foe to lose to Cats

No. 29: Arizona stuns second-ranked Oregon in most significant victory in Mike Stoops era

No. 30: Arizona’s win on last-second FG over ASU ends Frank Kush’s dominance in the series

No. 31: Arizona reaches its zenith under Mike Stoops with victory over Brigham Young in Las Vegas Bowl

No. 32: Arizona owed Cal a couple, knock Bears out of BCS title, Rose Bowl run

No. 33: Arizona’s 10-9 loss at Oregon in 1994, derailing its Rose Bowl hopes, still hurts

No. 34: ASU ripe for picking in banana uniforms for “The Streak” to reach eight

No. 35: Arizona tries risky fake PAT to beat California but loses in epic 4 overtime game

No. 36: Veal to Hill “Hail Mary” pass highlights “The Streak” reaching seven games against ASU

No. 37: USC outlasts Arizona 48-41 in one of most wild games played in Tucson

No. 38: Arizona Wildcats’ comeback against Nevada No. 38 in Top 50 games list

No. 39: Arizona shows signs of life under Mike Stoops with rout over No. 7 UCLA

No. 40: Art Luppino “The Cactus Comet” rockets toward 38 yards per carry and five touchdowns

No. 41: Fumblerooski enables Arizona to sweep USC, UCLA in L.A. for first time

No. 42: Sun Devil nemesis Dan White quarterbacks Arizona into Fiesta Bowl with win over ASU

No. 43: Struggling UA gets improbable win against ’83 Pac-10 champ UCLA

No. 44: Closing chapter of “The Streak” includes Arizona’s dramatic fourth-quarter heroics

No. 45: Arizona overcomes rival Texas Tech with unfathomable late-game rally

No. 46: Dick Tomey, the Desert Fox, does a number on UCLA by changing offense in midseason

No. 47: “The Streak” reaches three games, UA achieves best Pac-10 finish

No. 48: Arizona’s first game at Arizona Stadium in 1929, a 35-0 win over Cal Tech

No. 49: Underdog Arizona’s 2011 thriller over arch-rival Arizona State

No. 50: Arizona’s first win over arch-rival Arizona State, then known as Territorial Normal

Dropped out: Arizona’s first win in program’s history: 22-5 over Tucson Indians

* * * * *

WILDABOUTAZCATS.net publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes blogs for Lindy’s College Sports, TucsonCitizen.com and Sports Illustrated-sponsored site ZonaZealots.com.


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