Arizona Basketball

Anaheim trip no Disneyland for Arizona Wildcats in NCAA tournament


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The Arizona Wildcats return to the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., for the 11th time since the 1996-97 season tomorrow in search of the promised land, and it is not nearby Disneyland.


Arizona has a winning record of 6-4 at the arena, but three of those four losses were in the Elite Eight. The Wildcats’ March Madness dreams came to an end against Utah in 1998, Kansas in 2003 and Connecticut in 2011.

Similar to this season, when Arizona was the No. 1-ranked team for eight consecutive weeks, the Wildcats in 1997-98 and 2002-03 were highly ranked most of the season.

The 1997-98 team was coming off a national title run and was 30-4 when it faced the Utes and Rick Majerus. In what was Arizona’s most difficult defeat under Lute Olson, the Utes dominated with a 76-51 victory.

Five years later in Anaheim, Jason Gardner, Richard Jefferson and Co., were 28-3 before Kansas ended the Wildcats’ hopes of a return trip to the Final Four.

Sean Miller’s 30-8 team in 2010-11, led by first-round NBA draft pick Derrick Williams, lost in the last seconds to eventual champion Connecticut at the Honda Center. The Wildcats were coming off one of their best victories in the Sweet 16 with a 93-77 victory over Duke. San Diego State lost in the other Sweet 16 game against Connecticut.

“It’s kind of ironic now we find ourselves back, both of us,” Miller said during the press conference today. “I think it says a lot about both of our programs.”

Before that forgettable loss to Utah in Anaheim in 1998, the Wildcats were 3-0 in Elite Eight games. They won in that round three years later in San Antonio to advance to the 2001 Final Four. Since then, they have lost three consecutive games in the Elite Eight — two in Anaheim against Kansas and Connecticut and that heartbreaker in 2005 against Illinois in Rosemont, Ill.

You could say Arizona is due. The Wildcats can’t run into more tough luck in Anaheim, can they?


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[/ezcol_1half_end] publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.


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