By the time Arizona finishes its Elite Eight clash against UConn, the Wildcats will have faced 11 players in the NCAA Tournament who were McDonald’s All-Americans.
Arizona has none.
Is it any wonder so few thought the Cats could get this far? Is it any wonder the Huskies are three-point favorites on Saturday?
“Arizona has the belief that we are here, that we belong here, and we’re not going to change any agendas,” senior forward Jamelle Horne told reporters Friday afternoon at the Honda Center.
“We will keep doing what we’ve been doing all year and if that takes us to the end, then so be it.”
The Wildcats have gotten this far by (mostly) playing loose while lugging around a huge chip on their shoulders.
From the start, this team has played better as the underdog. The last thing it needed was to have others set unrealistic expectations. For once, that didn’t happen at Arizona. The one time the Wildcats allowed their heads to swell to overgrown proportions, the team promptly was deflated by losses at USC and UCLA.
“I think everyone got each others’ attention,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “And it became that if we’re not about togetherness and we don’t recognize the things that allow us to be very good, we’re very ordinary.”
Since then, Arizona has played its best ball of the season … by wide margins.
Even now, while the Wildcats soak up the praise that comes with three NCAA Tournament wins, including taking a wrecking ball to top-seeded Duke, a lot of it is of the backhanded variety. It’s as if those in the Eastern time zone have just unearthed this basketball gem named Derrick Williams.
Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe asked Miller on Friday if his two years in the Pac-10 gave him a window of insight into the perception of East Coast bias. Does it exist?
“Yes, Bob, and I didn’t know much about East Coast bias or taking the West for granted, but I couldn’t agree more,” Miller said.
Miller said that bias trickles down into those selections for the McDonald’s All-American team, which then colors how athletic and talented college teams are perceived to be. Remember, Miller was publicly perturbed when none of his incoming recruits — particularly guard Nick Johnson — was named to this year’s McDonald’s All-American teams.
Miller’s stature as a defender of the Pac-10, defender of the West, is rapidly growing.
He continued to answer Ryan’s question.
“But if you’re asking me do I think Derrick got as much notoriety at this as he deserved? No. And it’s not as if he’s a great player on a team that won 15 or 16 games. It’s taken to this round of the NCAA Tournament for everybody to acknowledge that he’s a special player.”
Williams is special. So is UConn point guard Kemba Walker.
Walker, naturally, was a McDonald’s All-American.
For the Wildcats, it’s just more of the same.
Arizona’s path to the Final Four already has been epic. How many 12 seeds are as athletic as Memphis? Texas was nearly ranked No. 1 during the season before being a 4 seed. Duke is Duke and won the ACC tournament.
Now comes UConn, the champion of the Big East tournament.
Arizona has already sent home Will Barton, Joe Jackson, Tristan Thompson, Jordan Hamilton, Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler. Now, Walker?
Looking ahead, UA could face North Carolina or Kentucky in the Final Four. The Cats could see Kansas or Florida in the title game. That’s a lot of Mickey D’s and blue blood.
If the Wildcats pull this off, they could very well eclipse the degree of difficulty of their 1997 run, when they beat three No. 1 seeds.
It could happen … as long as most people keep telling them they can’t do it.