Greg Hansen: Just like '32, '88, hostile fans await unbeaten UA

2013-01-07T00:00:00Z 2013-01-07T12:33:04Z Greg Hansen: Just like '32, '88, hostile fans await unbeaten UAGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 07, 2013 12:00 am  • 

When Arizona opened the 1931-32 basketball season 16-0, the Wildcats caught a train for Albuquerque, rode through a snowstorm, and upon arrival at New Mexico's old gymnasium were greeted by "a howling mob of students and townspeople."

That's the newspaper account of Feb. 19, 1932, game. In effect, Arizona's undefeated streak attracted so much attention that everyone seemed to be watching, even the police.

A few hours before tipoff, intrigued by the snow, four Wildcats initiated a snowball fight in downtown Albuquerque.

"Four were carted to the police station," the Star reported. "Convinced by the visitors that they had seen no snow in four years, the police chief dismissed the Wildcats with a stern reprimand."

UA coach Fred Enke did his best to use the get-out-of-jail card to his psychological advantage. By the time the coach had properly admonished his team, satisfied they could sweep the Lobos to go 18-0 and ultimately finish the season 20-0, the Star reported that UA basketball players arrived at the gymnasium with "blood in their eyes."

New Mexico won 30-28. The supposed greatest start ever to a UA basketball season came crashing down.

The Wildcats left the arena not with blood in their eyes, but tears. And they also lost to the Lobos the next day 40-33.

That's the lesson learned by both Arizona basketball teams that took extended season-opening winning streaks to Albuquerque, and one that awaits Sean Miller's 14-0 club when it arrives at Oregon's Matthew Knight Arena on Thursday.

Everybody wants a piece of The Streak.

On Jan. 2, 1988, Lute Olson took the No. 1 ranked Wildcats to Albuquerque, 12-0, to play the Lobos. Déjà vu, anyone?

It had been 56 years since the "howling mob of students and townspeople" eagerly watched as the Lobos chopped down the visiting giants as attendance edged past 18,000 at The Pit.

The Lobos, 11-3, had won seven straight. They were practically smacking their lips in anticipation of the all-eyes-on-us opportunity.

Someone wrote that the noise in the Lobos arena that night was as loud, or louder, than the sound of a jet breaking the sound barrier. Hundreds of fans rushed the court when the Lobos won 61-59, a game Olson said "was as difficult as any environment I've ever coached in."

When Miller takes the undefeated Wildcats to Eugene this week, a quarter-century since that 1987-88 team, he will get one break. The Ducks no longer play in "The Pit," but in the more forgiving, less hostile, relatively new Knight Arena, which has averaged about 5,000 fewer than capacity this season.

The point is: It might not matter. When you reach January undefeated, whether in Albuquerque or Eugene, whether in 1932 or 2013, you become a reputation-building, season-changing target.

The record book says that Arizona's '31-32 team won 16 straight to open the season, and it did. But not really. It's a myth. The UA's first two games that year were against the UA Alumni All-Stars at Bear Down Gym. They were hardly official games.

Somewhere over the last eight decades, officials in the UA sports information office should've amended the results of '31-32. They probably were unaware of it until now.

Enke used those two games as a tryout, suiting up 17 players, and ultimately cutting seven from the squad (including future New York Giants All-Star outfielder Hank Leiber) for the authentic season opener, if you can call it that.

The Wildcats opened against outside competition, Dixie Junior College, which, according to the Star, had an enrollment of just 87 students. Arizona swept Dixie in two games. Should those games count as part of a historic streak? Probably not.

The Wildcats then engaged in the season's most compelling game, against USC.

That was the 1931-32 equivalent to last month's absorbing victory over Florida.

Star columnist Chuck Kinter wrote that "the ramparts of USC were stormed and taken." Arizona won 28-26 before what was believed to be the largest crowd ever at Bear Down Gym (then six years old), about 1,500.

USC was big-league basketball. Arizona was struggling to get attention outside the southwest.

Wrote Kinter: "With a thespian gesture that left the Trojans dumbfounded and a crowd of more than 1,000 persons in hysterics, Arizona came from behind in the last minute to conquer the mighty monarch of the Pacific Coast Conference."

He referred to the Bear Down Gym crowd as "that breathless multitude."

Sound familiar? Couldn't that also describe last week's McKale Center crowds in a breathless sweep of Colorado and Utah?

It's been 81 years, and yet some things haven't changed much.

There is one further flaw in the 16-0 start of 1931-32. After sweeping ASU in Tempe, to run its record to 13-0, the Wildcats played against a men's club team, the Phoenix Ramblers, and won 40-25.

That was Game 14, included for posterity as part of the 16-0 streak. Of course it shouldn't count. In effect, this year's Wildcats, at 14-0, have the longest winning streak to start an Arizona basketball season.

By Thursday, in Oregon, a breathless multitude will try to see that The Streak stops there.

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