The Arizona Wildcats (5) defeated the Texas Longhorns (4) on Saturday night by a final score of 70-69 in Tulsa, OK. The win sends the 29-7 Wildcats to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2007, where it will face the Duke Blue Devils on Thursday night. It was a thrilling victory for all Arizona fans, but no one could be more excited than Arizona head coach Sean Miller.
When Miller arrived in Tucson nearly two years ago, his roster was uncertain, his fan-base was desperate, and his newly-inherited program was on the verge of its first absence in the NCAA Tournament in 25 years.
None of that lasted very long.
With Arizona's victory over Texas, Miller and company tallied a remarkable 29 wins, just a year removed from a 16-15 season that didn't even include an invitation to the NIT. Many factors have played a role in such a successful season, but most revolve around the tireless work of the young head coach and his staff.
Many who are close to Arizona basketball will tell you Miller is very meticulous about how he runs his program. Everyone involved, from assistants and managers to administrative staff, has a specific role that is needed to attain success. One example of this is strength coach, Chris Rounds, who followed coach Miller from Xavier University.
Miller has credited Rounds on countless occasions for improving the players' strength and conditioning, which has been vital to the pace and style of play that is necessary to play at Arizona. Without Rounds' continuity with, and understanding of, coach Miller and his philosophy, it would be difficult to have players conditioned to the needed standard.
Along with delegating specific duties within the program, coach Miller and his staff have also gone to great lengths on the recruiting trail. While some may claim Arizona was "lucky" to receive its 2009 class consisting of now-Pac-10 Player of the Year, Derrick Williams, it was no coincidence that Miller was able to bring the talented group to Tucson.
Prior to the 2nd round NCAA tournament game against the Memphis Tigers, Derrick Williams acknowledged that he was close to heading to the home of Graceland to play for ex-Arizona coach, Josh Pastner.
"I was very close to deciding when I went out there [to Memphis]," Williams said. "I was going to commit on my visit, actually, but I just didn't. I knew I had one more visit left. Coach Miller was recruiting me really hard, and I wanted to respect that and take that visit."
Coach Miller was recruiting Williams so hard, in fact, that he convinced the high school senior to make Tucson his new home and begin a journey with the rest of the 2009 freshman class.
Coach Miller proved his 2009 campaign was anything but a fluke when he put together the most dominant early class on the West coast with four top-75 commitments in the class of 2011. The classes of 2012 and beyond look to be just as strong, or even stronger, as Arizona is in very good position for top prospects such as Brandon Ashley, Chris Thomas, the Robinson twins, and Rosco Allen.
With the recent success this season, the Arizona program has not only benefited in the realm of recruiting, but it has also restored faith in the Tucson community.
Wildcat fans were spoiled throughout the Lute Olson era with Pac-10 championships and NCAA tournament appearances. The year of 2009 brought a great change when Arizona was left out of the Big Dance for the first time in over two decades. The program was entering unchartered waters and many fans couldn't begin to understand it.
As if that wasn't enough, just as many fans were still coping with the retirement of coach Olson and the deterioration of the program that followed shortly thereafter. Arizona fans were hanging on to what little hope was left.
Sean Miller and his staff have begun to restore and rebuild the once-abundant support and faith in the program that have given Arizona fans a sense of pride for so many years.
While it is unknown what the near future holds for the Wildcats come Thursday when they face Duke, one thing is certain: Arizona has turned the proverbial corner and is headed back to a place it resided for so many years.
And as long as Sean Miller and company are at the helm, Arizona shouldn't see those dreaded unchartered waters again for a long, long time.