LAS VEGAS — With the game clock dwindling down in Arizona’s 63-43 Pac-12 tournament semifinal victory over Colorado, a wildly pro-Wildcat crowd rose to its feet and clapped in appreciation.
So, too, did Kaleb Tarczewski and T.J. McConnell.
This was Picasso admiring Le Reve, Kanye West bopping his head to Late Registration, Bill Murray watching “Caddyshack” and cracking up.
Recognizing the beauty of one’s performance is not cocky or selfish or braggadocio. It is simple acknowledgment of the art.
And know this: Arizona’s performance on Thursday and Friday was poetry in motion, prettier than a purple orchid, gorgeous like a prom queen.
“These last two games, it’s felt really good,” said Nick Johnson — if not the man with the paintbrush, at least the guy who stirs the paint. “We’ve really stuck with our process, haven’t come out and gone on a 20-0 run — we slowly, slowly do it. It’s that fifth gear. We get to a level where they’re tired and we’re not and we keep on going.”
The fifth gear is something we don’t see so often in the modern college basketball game.
Whether due to a dearth of talent, an abundance of selfishness or a lack of dedication to either side of the ball, most teams don’t have in them what Arizona has.
Consider: The Wildcats led the Buffaloes 27-24 after 20 minutes, and that only came after a Gabe York three-pointer with five seconds left in the first half. Twelve minutes into the second half, Arizona led 51-32, then by 22 less than four minutes later.
“We’re Bugattis, man,” Rondae Hollis-Jefferson said. “We’re top of the notch, top of the notch.”
T.J. McConnell, the heady point guard who helps the Wildcats shift gear, chuckled at that comparison.
Then he said the Wildcats were Lamborghinis.
“The Bugatti is a little much, Rondae, in my opinion,” McConnell said, shaking his head at his young teammate. “At some points we slow it down, but when we’re revved up, it’s going pretty fast.”
Arizona floored it on Friday for the second straight day, holding consecutive opponents to less than 30-percent shooting from the field.
On Thursday, Utah watched the Wildcats zoom on past, Arizona turning a 7-6 lead into a 24-8 bulge faster than the Utes could spell “Tarczewksi.” The Wildcats led 34-13 at the half, 46-15 at the 15:05 mark of the second half, and were ahead by as much as 36 in the game.
In the middle of such a run, when the building is buzzing, the energy is surging, and the wattage is through the roof, the Wildcats say they can feel it.
It can be spurred on by as little — as much? — as a pair of back-to-back dunks, like the ones by Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson had on Friday, or a block like Gordon’s of Colorado’s Xavier Johnson just two minutes later.
But once it’s rolling, once the tachometer is spinning out of control, the Wildcats are right in the middle of it.
“We tend to come together more,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “One minute we’re up two or down two, next minute it’s like, ‘Wow look at them go.’ We start smiling, we start being ourselves. Once we’re ourselves, it’s like, ‘Boom, we’ve stepped on that fifth gear.’ We just drive. We go. We go hard.”
Does Arizona have enough gas in the tank to push the pedal to a national championship?
Some still need convincing.
“It is a unique skill, but it scares me sometimes, because I feel like they know they can flip that switch and turn it on,” UA legend and Fox Sports 1 announcer Sean Elliott said. “I played on teams like that in the NBA, when we felt like we could turn it on, and sometimes it didn’t turn on and it cost you.”
UA coach Sean Miller knows this, and he’s put the restrictor plate in place to keep the Cats from speeding past themselves or spinning out because they’ve gotten too self-congratulatory.
When Tarczewski and McConnell stood to clap with the rest of MGM Grand Garden Arena on Friday, it wasn’t cockiness, though.
The Wildcats just know what they’ve put in and what they’re getting out.
“Our guys understand how hard this is,” Miller said. “They also know how hard it is to win. And they also know it can come to a screeching halt tomorrow.”
Only if the brakes on that Lamborghini don’t hold up.