Arizona Basketball

Fan poll shows Arizona Wildcats’ biggest hoops rival still UCLA in a runaway

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Arizona plays Gonzaga for the fourth time in as many years Saturday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Must be a rivalry right?

Two West coast powers. Identifiable nationally. Perennial NCAA tournament teams.

It’s conceivable that the Wildcats and Zags are heated rivals. Maybe “competitors” is a better word? Judging from a response of a group of fans on the “Arizona Wildcats Basketball” Facebook page, Gonzaga is not viewed as one of the Wildcats’ top three rivals.

In fact, the Bulldogs had only one vote for the poll question, “Arizona’s biggest basketball rival?” out of 179 responses as of 11 p.m. Friday night.

The vote must have to do with Sean Miller’s team having a 3-0 record against Gonzaga in the last three meetings, including a win at The Kennel in Spokane, Wash., last year after trailing by 10 points at halftime. Arizona is 6-1 overall against Gonzaga.

It may not have the same feel as when Reggie Miller, Don MacLean, Ed O’Bannon, Toby Bailey, Jordan Farmar and Kevin Love, etc., crawled under the skin of Arizona fans, but the Wildcats’ rivalry with UCLA still reins supreme. Very supreme.

The poll’s results:

UCLA was the runaway top choice with 161 votes or 89.9 percent.

The next two were Duke with eight votes (4.5 percent) and ASU with seven votes (3.9 percent).

Gonzaga, Oregon and Wisconsin each received one vote (0.5 percent).

The Zags tried their best Thursday to make Saturday’s game feel like a rivalry with comments made by guards Josh Perkins and Silas Melson after their win over Mississippi Valley State.

“I think we should have won both those years,” Perkins said about close losses to the Wildcats in the last two seasons. “The third time’s the charm. Like I said, we’ve got something for them. Send a message, Saturday.

“We feel like we owe them some payback. It’s been some years building up. Saturday’s a time for us to get back at them.”

Arizona’s school newspaper, the Arizona Daily Wildcat, dubbed Arizona and Gonzaga this week as the “West coast’s best rivalry.”

Can’t fault the Wildcat for that assessment with Arizona and Gonzaga perennially strong college basketball programs. Also, students at Arizona now were not around when the Arizona-UCLA rivalry started to establish itself in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.

Furthermore, if Gonzaga won at least one of the last three meetings perhaps Arizona’s fans would have more disdain for the Bulldogs.

That could come about Saturday with the Zags finally breaking through.

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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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