That said, the performance brought up some significant concerns, especially in light of Arizona's effort in the latter stages. The UA played tight. It played like a No. 1 seed that tried not to lose, as opposed to a confident No. 1 that felt it belonged. It felt the heat, and almost melted against a team that acted as if it had nothing to lose, and more often than not found a way to get to many critical loose balls. Arizona played as if the pressure of No. 1 was about to come crumbling around it.
In some ways it's understandable. Hostile environment, and trust me, Huntsman defined hostile environment. An opponent that turned in its best performance of the season. A venerable give and take.
Arizona didn't win as much as it hung on. With about three minutes left in regulation, and in the game's later possessions in both overtimes, the UA played for one shot. It didn't attack the basket. It didn't run an offense that typically would give it the best chance for success. No, it attempted to milk the clock for one look per possession. Sadly, outside of Luke Walton, nobody appeared comfortable with the ball in his hands, save finally Salim Stoudamire, who hit two clutch shots in the second OT.
This is a potentially disturbing scenario. Arizona has veteran talent. It has a point guard who has made a legacy of wanting the ball in his hands during clutch situations, yet against Gonzaga Jason Gardner looked uncomfortable, even to the point of missing a free throw late. Unheard of in Gardner's career at the UA. In the end, only Walton really wanted the rock.
So the question looms. If the situation repeats itself again, will Arizona be up for the challenge? It can go either way. After all, advancing to the Sweet 16 is not the site this team has in mind. And if say, Notre Dame, can push the UA late, will Arizona revert to a similar mindframe?
Or will it attack, acting as if new life has made it a team of destiny?
The Wildcats have endured this before. At times this season it's as if they forgot how to have fun, dealing instead with the constant challenge of attempting to achieve perfection. However, when they've just gone out and played, the results have often been impressive.
Arizona has experienced the pressure cooker, and is still alive to talk about it. It will be hard to match the intense fervor it encountered in Salt Lake City. There will be a solid Wildcat contingent in Anaheim, so even though the fans of the underdogs will cheer for Notre Dame, matching the volume level that occurred in SLC will be hard to achieve. And even though Arizona is the No.1 seed, should it advance to the Elite Eight, it will be hard for the uncommitted in attendance to really call Duke or Kansas an underdog.
The UA is the No. 1 seed, and as such it has the best talent in Anaheim. The other three teams at the most noteworthy of the NCAA's Regionals have played very well to get to this point, but Arizona still has the loaded hand. If it can get comfortable with its place and enjoy the ride, the results should favor an appearance in New Orleans next week.
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