The Arizona Wildcats will enter Staples Center and the 14th Pac-10 Conference Tournament as the top seed. Led by conference Player of the Year, Derrick Williams, the Wildcats will begin the quest to win its 5th championship since the tournament's inception in 1987.
On Thursday afternoon, Arizona will play the winner of Wednesday night's game between Stanford (8) and Oregon State (9).
During the regular season the Wildcats swept the Stanford Cardinal, with the first meeting coming just one day after the Tucson shooting tragedy that left congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords critically injured.
Head coach Sean Miller acknowledged that the horrific event acted to bring the team and community together and remind them just how trivial basketball really is.
"Our players love our fans and they love playing here at McKale, more than you realize," Miller said. "Honoring the people that support them was very easy for all of us to acknowledge. I think we were in line with everyone in Tucson that our priorities and our thoughts are with the people who really need our thoughts right now."
Arizona beat Stanford 67-57 at home, and also earned a victory on the road, at Stanford, by a score of 78-69.
While Arizona had little difficulty handling the Cardinal this season, Oregon State has given the Wildcats fits, dating all the way back to last season.
After being swept by the Beavers in 2010, Sean Miller said that he thought Oregon State was "the most confident team in the Pac-10." And, heading into the Tucson game this past week, the Beavers had a right to be confident, considering they had yet to lose to Miller's squad.
However, that all changed this past Thursday night as a big performance by Lamont Jones helped the Wildcats hand the Beavers their 12th conference loss of the season.
Regardless of who wins the first round of the Pac-10 Tournament, Arizona should feel confident playing either Stanford or Oregon State, as the Wildcats have both superior coaching and more talent across the board.
If the Wildcats move past its first game, it will face the winner of USC (4) and California (5) on Friday night.
Arizona earned its 13th home victory when it beat the Trojans at McKale Center in January. The same cannot be said when the Wildcats traveled to the Galen Center in late February – on Kevin O'Neill bobblehead night to be exact.
The then-top-10 Wildcats played one of their worst games of the season as they fell to a motivated USC team, led by talented forward Nikola Vucevic who ended with a double-double.
While the USC game was not exciting for any Arizona fan, it would be difficult to find a game more entertaining this season than the Wildcats' second meeting with California. Arizona hung on to survive in triple overtime by a score of 107-105. Momo Jones again came through in clutch situations to help the ‘Cats complete the sweep of the Bay Area schools.
If the Wildcats can survive two games in the conference tournament, it will most likely meet either UCLA (2) or Washington (3) on Saturday afternoon in the Pac-10 Tournament Championship.
On January 27th, Arizona snapped the Bruins' four-game winning streak with little difficulty in Tucson with an 85-74 win. UCLA went on to win seven of its next eight games until it got a second chance at the Wildcats in the final home game at Pauley Pavilion.
The Bruins made the most of the opportunity with a 71-49 demolition of Arizona on national television. This evened the series at 1-1 between Arizona and UCLA, with both teams tied for 1st place heading into the final week of the regular season.
After an early season blowout at the hands of Washington, the Wildcats sought revenge when the Huskies traveled to Tucson in mid-February. Advertised as a "white-out", the atmosphere was electric as 14,619 fans packed McKale Center to support the home team.
The game delivered many climactic moments, with the highlight coming just before the final buzzer as Derrick Williams sent Washington's final shot into the student section, securing an 87-86 victory for Arizona.
Heading into the conference tournament, Arizona should feel confident as it has swept 5 of 9 Pac-10 teams this season, while also beating each team at least once. There have been a few letdowns throughout the past five months, but Arizona has surpassed the expectations of many fans and experts around the country after posting a 25-6 record.
It would be very fitting for the last Pac-10 regular season championship and conference tournament championship to adorn the trophy case in McKale Center. In order for that to happen, Miller and company will need to remember what has gotten them to this point and continue to play with a chip on their shoulder.
And of course, they need to play a lot better than their last trip to Los Angeles.
Wildcats should be confident
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