The odds of Cal beating Arizona on Senior Night at McKale Center were what, 58 to 1? Or, depending on your math, 58 to 0? Is that possible? Is that an odd, or just odd?
The last place team has never beat the first place team in Pac-12 history, not on the road, not in Pac-10 history, not in Pac-8 history and not in ancient history, not even when the league was known as the AAWU. That goes back to 1960.
That’s a lot of nots.
That’s 58 years, and good luck on doing the research before that. It took me an hour to go from 1960 to Saturday’s game at McKale Center, which is more homework than I’ve done since the eighth grade.
With 5:49 remaining Saturday, Arizona and Cal were tied at 53. How did this happen? Allonzo Trier and Dusan Ristic were a combined 1 for 18 from the field.
The man sitting behind me in the first row began yelling at the refs. He only yells at the refs when it’s UCLA or Oregon and he’s scared. On Saturday, it was Fright Night at McKale.
And then Trier picked up a loose ball, sprinted the length of the court for a layup — his first basket of the night and last basket at McKale Center ever — and Cal became Cal and Arizona became Arizona.
The Wildcats won 66-54 and everyone seemed willing to write it off to a tough week at the office.
“I think everybody was just drained, mentally and physically,” said senior point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright. “Everybody’s just a little worn down.”
Of the many (16) Pac-12 and Pac-10 champions at McKale Center, this one did the most heavy breathing. Nothing came easy except the halftime show.
The Wildcats’ average differential in home conference games was 6.4 points. The game with the widest margin, 14 points against conference runner-up USC, was in doubt until the final minute.
Is this the new way of Pac-12 basketball, or was it just that this UA championship team didn’t always have its act together?
Here are Arizona’s home conference games margins of the last five years:
If it seemed like you were mentally beat when you turned off the TV on game night, or walked back to a parking lot near McKale, it’s probably because Arizona lacked the finish-them-off gene.
Hey, who cares?
No matter what the critics say about the quality of basketball in the Pac-12, it is significantly better than it was in 1988 and 1989 when Sean Elliott and the guys won home conference games by averages of 27 and 29 points.
This is the just-win-baby era.
The same applies as Arizona moves on to the Pac-12 tournament. I don’t recall a more potentially frightening first-round game than Thursday’s looming ASU-Arizona hell-raiser. Sure, the Sun Devils first have to beat Colorado, but in a year in which the Wildcats have rarely followed the most clear route to success, you can bank on Bobby Hurley standing on the sidelines, scowling, Thursday at lunch time.
The big news on Senior Night was that Sean Miller expanded it to be Freshman Night and Sophomore Night and Junior Night, too.
He essentially bid farewell to Trier, sophomore Rawle Alkins and freshman Deandre Ayton after the seniors and their families were honored in traditional Senior Night festivities.
“What it used to be sometimes isn’t today,” Miller said. “You have to adjust with the times. Those guys deserved an ovation just like the seniors because they’re not going to play in McKale again.”
That’s what most expected, but also feared.
How long might it be before Arizona cuts down the nets on Senior Night again? Don’t ask.
Ayton left McKale Center with a 26-point, 20-rebound double-double and it didn’t really appear as though he emptied his tank. People might hedge when describing Ayton’s freshman season at Arizona – imagine if he ever reaches his potential — but as of now he has scored 616 points. No other freshman in UA history can match it.
I mean, he’s 19 years old. Can you imagine what he has a chance to be at 24, besides a very wealthy five-year NBA veteran, and possibly an All-Star.
Consider the surface barely scratched.
On my scorecard, Ayton joins select company as one of the five greatest freshmen basketball players in UA history. That’s a separate Ring of Honor, and it includes Mike Bibby, Sean Elliott, Coniel Norman and Aaron Gordon. It’s a tough class to crack, and as time goes on, many will consider Ayton No. 1 in that group
Either way, the last 31 games no longer carry weight with anyone but the NCAA Selection Committee. It’s what the Wildcats do over the next three weeks — possibly four — that will define the 2017-18 season.
As Arizona cut down the nets Saturday night, Queen’s “We Are The Champions” played on the public address system. It seemed to be written expressly for the ’17-18 Wildcats:
I’ve paid my dues
Time after time
I’ve done my sentence
But committed no crime
And bad mistakes
I’ve made a few
I’ve had my share of sand
Kicked in my face
But I’ve come through
If the Wildcats can carry that note, they should be playing in the Sweet 16 three weeks from now.