For the first time in a long time, Dave and Keith Rubio spent Thanksgiving together this year.
Dave is Arizona’s head coach, Keith a New Mexico State assistant, and both moved out of their home state of California a long time ago.
But this time, Keith was in Phoenix for the WAC’s conference tournament, so he made the two-hour trek down to Tucson to see his brother.
The next day, he sat in the crowd at McKale Center, cheering his brother on as the Wildcats beat ASU in four sets.
One week later, things might not be so pleasant.
On Sunday, the NCAA selection committee revealed this year’s 64-team bracket.
Arizona to face New Mexico State in the first round.
So, Rubio versus Rubio. Today, 6 p.m. at Jenny Craig Pavilion in San Diego.
“I was pretty fired up,” said Keith, about his reaction to the announcement.
Added Dave, smiling: “I texted him. I haven’t talked to him in person yet. I actually want to avoid talking to him before the match. It’s a little bit of a distraction on the other side, I like to treat all my opponents as if they’re the enemy at this point, I can be friends with them after the match.”
Whether he wants to talk about it or not, though, it will be a Rubio family affair — their mother will also be at the match.
“She’s staying at our hotel,” Dave said, “and I said ‘you probably should pick a neutral site since you don’t wanna show any favoritism.’ But at this point we’re pretty professional.”
They have to be — now, it’s win or go home.
The Wildcats went 20-12 in the regular season and 10-10 in the Pac-12, with a signature win against then-No. 1 USC, along with wins against five other NCAA-bound teams.
But, the Wildcats never even made it to the big dance last year, and in the three consecutive years prior, they were bounced in the first round. With one contributing senior and five juniors, that’s not a whole lot of postseason experience.
“I do think that our experience helps a lot,” said senior libero Candace Nicholson, Arizona’s career digs leader, of the early first-round exits. “I think we can say that we don’t want that to happen again and we’ll do anything we can to make sure of that.”
Standing in the way, at least in the first round, is New Mexico State.
The Aggies went 22-10 this season, 14-2 in conference, and won the WAC regular season and the conference tournament. There is a familiarity factor, too — every year, the UA and NMSU face off in the spring, plus the two teams have met five times since Rubio was named the Wildcats coach in 1992. The UA is 5-0 in those games.
“My hope is we go in and we play well enough on Friday to win,” Rubio said. “We’ll see. We’ll have to play well to beat New Mexico State.”
Added Mike Jordan, the Aggies coach: “Well, we know what a great team Arizona is. We’re very familiar with them.”
At the very least, two of them are familiar with each other.
This won’t be the first time Keith and Dave have met on opposing sidelines — Keith was an assistant at USC from 1996 to 1998 and at Oregon in 2002-03. But it’ll be their first meeting in the NCAA tournament, the first win or go home.
Even if “home” means their mom’s house in Northridge, Calif.
Dave wasn’t too keen on talking about the brother vs. brother matchup, but Keith didn’t shy away.
“I’m looking forward to it. It’ gonna be fun,” he said. “But it’s about winning. We were competitive as kids, and that’s never changed. We’ll see what happens.”
For Dave’s players, at least, they see it as a little added motivation.
“He hasn’t said much,” Nicholson said, “but knowing Dave, we know he really wants to beat his brother, and this is personal for him.
“I think for Dave, it’s a little something extra.”