ANAHEIM, Calif. — The most accurate judge of a team’s staying power at the Sweet 16 is that it played those games in arenas that no longer exist, are no longer used or have changed their names multiple times.
Arizona scores big in the Sweet 16 test of time.
It played the 1988 and 1991 Sweet 16s at the busted-up and buried Seattle Kingdome.
It played its first Sweet 16, 1976, at the old Pauley Pavilion.
Arizona was not-so-sweetly beaten twice at Denver’s McNichols Arena, first by UNLV in 1989 and later by Kansas in 1996. McNichols is now a parking lot next to Invesco Field at Mile High.
In 1994, Arizona was a sweetheart, whipping Louisville in the Sweet 16 at the dingy Los Angeles Sports Arena, which is now largely Swap-Meets-R-Us.
It has played Sweet 16 games at the Arrowhead Pond and the Honda Center, which are one and the same in Anaheim, Calif., and it was routed by Oklahoma in San Jose’s Compaq Center, later identified as HP Pavilion and now SAP Center.
It has won a Sweet 16 game at the Alamodome and lost one at Lucas Oil Stadium, one in the heart of Texas and the latter in the heart of Hoosier country.
Perhaps none of Arizona’s 15 previous Sweet 16 appearances was as memorable as a stunning victory over No. 1 Kansas in 1997. That bit of basketball magic was accomplished at the BJCC Coliseum in downtown Birmingham, Ala., which came off as a cross between a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey storage facility and an indoor rodeo grounds.
It is now not-so-affectionately known as the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center.
There’s a lot of Arizona basketball history in those arenas — new, old and those that have gone to the grave.
When the Wildcats play San Diego State tonight at the Honda Center — the site of their remarkable upset over No. 1 seeded Duke in the 2011 Sweet 16 – they’ll be attempting to improve a sweet-as-honey Sweet 16 record in the greater Los Angeles area to 6-1.
Arizona won in L.A. in 1976, 1994, 1998, 2003, 2011. The only setback was last year’s crushing Sweet 16 loss to Ohio State at Staples Center.
The NCAA has taken most of the charm (if that’s the proper term) out of each of its host sites by installing a homogeneous court, one-size-fits-all, at every venue. The Honda Center will look exactly like San Diego’s Viejas Center looked last week, and the way every Sweet 16 game you watch on TV looks.
But the uniformity of the stage has never detracted from Arizona’s ability to create Sweet 16 memories. Here are 16 of them (one for each year) to celebrate the UA’s 16th Sweet 16.