So, you’re saying Arizona has a shot at a title? Arizona goes into next week’s tournament with 10-1 odds to win it. It’s good enough to mean Las Vegas has UA as the sixth-best favorite, along with — hmmm — Gonzaga, the No. 1 team in the West.
It’s not like Arizona hasn’t been here before.
In 2014, behind Sean Miller, Arizona rode the hype and the hope of being a No. 1 seed in the West. A season later, Arizona was no less hopeful when it was a No. 2 seed in the same region.
Arizona was close to home with perhaps an even better team and better potential. Both seasons ended at the Elite Eight at the hands of Wisconsin.
One of those defeats came on a last shot that failed for Arizona; the other came on a number of shots that fell for Wisconsin. Well, here’s Arizona next shot in the West. And, of course, everyone — including Miller — is just as hopeful.
Yes, Arizona has a legitimate shot to make it to the Final Four — just a Lauri Markkanen 3-pointer distance-wise in Glendale on April 1.
“The No. 2 seed answers that,” Miller said in a Sunday afternoon press conference, addressing the third time in four years in which UA is a No. 1 or a No. 2 seed. “When you get a No. 2 seed and you are viewed as one of the top eight teams, it’s up to us to make that true.”
It all begins Thursday when Arizona faces North Dakota in Salt Lake City.
“Every year there is that one team you thought was going far and they just don’t because it’s not a seven-game series. It’s 40 minutes and it’s whoever is at their very best (at that moment).”
On the positive side, Arizona showed signs it is headed in the right direction at the right time, playing some of its best basketball in collective fashion. Outside of a slumping Kobi Simmons, everyone has stepped up their games.
These aren’t the Cats from November and December … or January and February.
More recently, Miller said his team didn’t beat itself and it brought “our style to the games,” meaning Arizona was able to out-rebound foes and defend well on the perimeter .
Last weekend was a case study in cohesiveness.
“We want to make sure we bring to the table everything that makes us a good team and that’s what we can control,” Miller said.
Will 2017 be when Arizona will be the right team at the right time, making a deep run? It’s been 16 seasons since Arizona reached the Final Four (that year as a No. 2 seed) and 20 years since Arizona unfathomably ran the six-game table, including defeating a record-breaking three No. 1 teams en route to its one-and-only title.
Back in 2001, Arizona rode a six-game winning streak into the NCAA Tournament and then reeled off five more victories before falling to Duke in the final.
In 1997, Arizona lost its final two regular-season games, but gained confidence because it played well against two good teams (Stanford, California). Then it won six straight to win the title.
It was a triumph for the unheralded.
These days, Arizona isn’t under the radar — No. 2 seeds usually aren’t. No. 2 seeds are capable of making it to the Final Four.
Some consider momentum a factor. Going into Thursday’s game, Arizona has that momentum after beating Colorado, UCLA and Oregon to win the Pac-12 tournament. The Wildcat won at Arizona State before that to end the regular season.
“I believe in the continuation of playing well,” Miller said.
Miller said beating the last three opponents — especially how they had been playing — brings -a certain confidence.
“For us, building on that confidence and taking that type of confidence onto a neutral court is the momentum that we want to keep going,” Miller said.