Proud Cats want to be best in the west

SALT LAKE CITY-The West Region will actually see a game among two of the best teams in the West. The Wildcats get a shot at Gonzaga, a program that has garnered a lot of the attention in the press. The Cats see themselves as the top dog near the Pacific, so it will be interesting to see if there is any added motivation for the Wildcats. One former Wildcat thinks there will be.

[This story was originally a Premium story available to Cat Tracks Club members. Subscribe Now! ]

Recently on the radio, former Wildcat forward Justin Wessel said that the current Cats don't like all of the attention Gonzaga gets. In recent years the two schools have been the flag bearers for West Coast hoops. Wessel said that just as the Wildcats don't like all the run that Duke gets, they also don't like the run that the Zags get.

Whether this is true or not is hard to prove. Publicly the Cats stay diplomatic. If they resent the attention the WCC school gets they won't say it to the press (Wessel excluded).

"Gonzaga, in the last five years, has shown themselves to be an elite team in the tournament," Rick Anderson said after Arizona beat Vermont. "They just come in and knock people off...they're ability to find a way to win in the tournament is scary."

As a Wildcat fan you hope Wessel is right. The Cats have played better all year with a chip on their shoulder. They play better in big games or when doubt is cast upon them.

When everyone talked up Texas the Cats responded with a gritty win. When the media hyped Ike Diogu as the best post player in the Pac-10, Channing Frye responded with 13 points and seven rebounds in the Wildcats' 71-63 win. When the Phoenix media proclaimed that ASU had closed the gap despite the loss in Tucson, the Wildcats went to Tempe and won 92-72. The Wildcat post players? Yeah, they led the team scoring 65 of the 92 points.

The Wildcats seem to thrive on being counted out or being looked down upon. When the game lacks intrigue the Cats play poorly. This team has always thrived when the chips were down. How else to explain the monumental comebacks the past two seasons? Down big to UCLA or Kansas? Have no fear. Lose Luke Walton and Salim Stoudamire early in the season? Don't worry, someone new will stand up.

Gonzaga may be a nine seed, but the committee did this team a favor. They put an opponent in their path that the Cats can get up for. Other than LSU and maybe Oregon is there any 8/9 seed that could motivate this team? Think they would be up for Utah or Purdue? NC State does not necessarily inspire a team.

If the Cats truly want to prove they are the best in the west, then they will come out with a little fire. The best thing that can happen to the Cats is a little love by the media for Blake Stepp. They need Digger Phelps to talk up Corey Violette, Nate Gourde and Ronny Turiaf. Keep mentioning how good Mark Few is.

What's funny is that the teams are near mirror images in terms of wins and tournament performances. While it's not exactly a fair comparison, the Cats play in the Pac-10 and Gonzaga the WCC, it is interesting to note. In the five years that the Bulldogs have been in the tournament they are 133-35 overall and 8-4 in tournament play. The Wildcats in that same span are 127-35 overall and 9-4 in the tournament. In that span the Bulldogs have three Sweet-16 runs and just one first round loss. The Cats have a Sweet-16 appearance, a National Title game appearance and one first round loss.

Head-to-head the Cats won the lone meeting. In 2001 Gonzaga came into McKale and lost 101-87.

It is easy to see why the Wildcats would be bent that Gonzaga gets the pub. To be fair, Arizona has garnered more than their share this season. The Cats, a media whipping boy in the past, have been media darlings this year. Unfair expectations were place upon them and one bad loss suddenly has them as an afterthought.

Truthfully, Gonzaga has not stolen any of the shine from the Wildcats. The Bulldogs have earned every bit of praise that they have been given. To do what they have done with what they have has been phenomenal. The Cats are the premier program on the West Coast, no one would really doubt that. But if the Wildcats want to feel slighted and use that as extra motivation, watch out!

Talk about this on the CATS LAIR MESSAGE BOARDS

Wildcat Authority Top Stories