Everybody wants a piece of No. 1, not just Colorado and Utah, not just Herb Sendek and Mike Montgomery, but everybody with a pen, pencil and internet connection.
Sports Illustrated and ESPN produced a pair of hosannas to the Arizona Wildcats this week. Yahoo did a blowout on the furnishings in Nick Johnson’s apartment, The Arizona Republic printed not one but two you-guys-are-the-greatest decrees, and every conceivable obscure website (sportsonearth.com, for example) jumped on the bandwagon.
On Wednesday, the UA itself added to the hallelujah chorus, releasing a four-minute video with voices singing praises to Sean Miller’s undefeated team.
“They’re ego-free,” said CBS’ Doug Gottlieb.
“It’s possibly the best team in their history,” said ESPN’s Bill Walton.
“They’ve got energy, enthusiasm, detail and passion,” said Fox Sports’ Gus Johnson.
Dick Vitale added his hyperbole. The esteemed Bill Raftery said, “It is alive,” as if Arizona was some type of team-eating monster. ESPN delivered a Saturday Night Live-type monologue in which Bruce Pearl imagined he was providing Colorado with the secret to chopping up the 1972 UCLA Bruins.
I changed the station on my car radio and heard ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt chumming up to Sean Miller as if he had Pete Carroll or Peyton Manning on the line.
“All of us have taken a deep breath over the last year and a half and recognized we have come a long way in a short period of time,” said Miller.
Arizona’s celebrity has grown for seven weeks, thrived actually, and Thursday’s 69-57 thumping of wanna-be rival Colorado didn’t do anything to diminish the flattery. Or shall we refer to it as worship?
Miller defined the recent “discovery” of Johnson by the national media as “bestowing accolades.”
Everybody loves a winner, and for the first time in school history Arizona is 19-0.
As Miller told one of the many ESPN outlets to rush to the scene, “For us to ignore it would be almost foolish on our end.”
The Buffaloes weren’t ignored Thursday, but rather a convenient foil for a winning streak matched in UA history only by Lute Olson teams that bulled through the Pac-10 with 17-1 records.
In the game’s first five possessions, Colorado had two shots blocked, twice fumbled the ball away, and shot an air ball. It was 9-0, Arizona. See ya.
Without injured Spencer Dinwiddie, the Buffaloes don’t have enough firepower to challenge Arizona at McKale. Dinwiddie was such a force last season that he attempted 27 free throws in three games against the Wildcats.
On Thursday, the Wildcats outmanned CU so thoroughly that the Buffaloes attempted just 14 free throws; they had led the Pac-12 by averaging 29 per game. That’s called owning the paint.
On Thursday, the Buffaloes were varnished.
“That’s just a little glimpse of what we can do,” said UA freshman Aaron Gordon.
Dinwiddie’s injury is almost without precedent in the last 30 years of Pac-12 basketball; the only all-conference players to miss a substantial block of a season were Cal’s Ed Gray in 1997, and Arizona’s Loren Woods in 2000.
As the Bears and Wildcats learned, all of that win-one-for-the-Gipper motivation doesn’t replace an impact player. The Buffaloes shot .385 afield, almost exactly Arizona’s average for field goal percentage defense, the lowest in the Pac-12 since No. 1 Stanford in 2000.
“Dinwiddie’s 6-6 and plays the point; he can drive, shoot, pass, whatever,” said UA guard Johnson. “It’s definitely a tragic loss for them.”
A lot of people have prematurely labeled Colorado as Arizona’s nouveau rival; the Buffaloes have never exhibited any staying power in college basketball, and the first six games between Miller and CU coach Tad Boyle did not feature a single team ranked in the Top 25.
CU’s a nice addition to Pac-12 basketball, mostly because the Buffaloes have a more purposeful fan base than most of the old Pac-10 partners, but Thursday’s game didn’t have much punch to it.
Miller almost had to invent “problems” in his post-game interview, citing a 32-32 rebounding tie, and the fact that CU’s Xavier Johnson popped in four three-pointers.
Much like Dinwiddie before him — at Pac-12 media day, Dinwiddie suggested that CU doesn’t consider Arizona an elite power — Johnson on Thursday told reporters that “there was no intimidation” at McKale and that the Wildcats “weren’t that good.”
Miller should thank the X Man because now he won’t have to spend any time motivating Arizona for the return game next month in Boulder, Colo.
If it takes some bold comments to manufacture a “rivalry,” we’ll take it. Do you realize Arizona hasn’t played a Top 25 conference opponent at McKale since No. 24 Washington played here in 2010?
Arizona is almost desperate for a rival; two teams ranked in the AP Top 25 haven’t played one another in Tucson since 2007. It was, in a sense, disappointing that Dinwiddie is injured and the Buffaloes arrived at McKale unranked.
This is a rivalry: Arizona and UCLA have met 27 times when both were ranked. Stanford and Arizona: 18 times.
Beating Colorado is nice; beating Utah on Sunday would be nicer.
“If we lose, we’re going to lose because the other team is really good,” Miller said.
On Thursday, Colorado was neither “really good” nor good enough upon which to “bestow accolades.” The Buffaloes were simply No. 19.