When Arizona and New Mexico played a basketball game on Feb. 12, 1923, at the old Tucson Armory, and the next day’s Star reported that the Wildcats took it easy on the Lobos.
“Late in the game, the crowd enjoyed a little side play by Robert Thomas, Cat guard, when he took a shot at the wrong basket out of pity for the Lobos.”
Arizona won 59-13, and on Wednesday night, 94 years later, the Wildcats led 37-14 just before the half.
The UA’s Kiddie Corps had no pity, but at least they shot at the proper basket.
Arizona won 77-46 and a humbled Lobos fan sitting about 5 feet behind the center court press table wouldn’t stop shouting. “We are embarrassed!” he would say. “Time for you go to, coach!” he shouted.
In that 1923 game, Arizona led 18-1. On Wednesday the Wildcats led 14-2. I watched Lobos coach Craig Neal, who stood, arms folded, in front of the scorer’s table. His expression was inscrutable, never changing, as the score went from 12-0 to 20-6 to 31-10.
Finally, Neal took a seat. It was straight out of a Seinfeld episode in which George Costanza’s boss, Mr. Kruger, didn’t react to news that his business was in distress.
“I’m not too worried about it,” he said.
What did you expect, anyway?
The Lobos arrived at McKale Center 7-4, with victories over teams ranked Nos. 347, 294, 288, 285, 269, 234 and 111, according to the Kenpom.com basketball bible. It’s likely New Mexico played a tougher schedule in 1923.
Neal’s club was so unfamiliar with quality opposition that it might’ve confused UA sophomore center Chance Comanche with a 1974 Bill Walton, sitting courtside for the Pac-12 Network. Comanche, who is the seventh man in the UA’s seven-man rotation, opened the game 6-for-6 afield with five dunks.
It’s not like he was dunking over some guy named Mutumbo or Zeus, either. He was wide open.
Arizona thus completed its seven-game home nonconference Cupcake Campaign at 7-0, in which the only suspense over the 50-day period was whether Sean Miller would add a third in-season walk-on to join Tyler Trillo and Kory Jones, both of whom have played more minutes than last year’s leading scorer, Allonzo Trier.
Ready or not, with or without Trier, Arizona must move on and engage the Pac-12, which appears to have seven NCAA Tournament-worthy teams, including Utah and Colorado. It will be a significant step up in competition.
Nevertheless, despite injuries and a suspension, several plus-plus situations developed during the 50-day period from a victory over Cal State Bakersfield to Wednesday’s home-for-the-holidays preseason finale.
Is Miller doing more with less, or is it a product of a nonconference schedule ranked No. 130 by Kenpom.com?
One thing is indisputable: The second incarnation of a Kiddie Corps at Arizona, freshmen Lauri Markkanen, Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins have combined to play 1,224 minutes. They were at times humbled and played like freshmen, especially against Gonzaga, but it’s unlikely they will be cowed by the Haas Pavilion crowd when the Pac-12 season opens next week at Cal.
“I think we’re going to be more than ready when we go to Cal and Stanford,” said Comanche. “We can’t expect anything easy.”
It was something of a disappointment that the Lobos weren’t any better, or able to create some sort of drama, or even challenge one of Comanche’s thunder dunks. The UA charged “premium seating” prices for Wednesday’s game, up from $26 to $40 in the cheap seats and asked $62 for vacant ZonaZoo seats.
But Miller and athletic director Greg Byrne have pledged to make future home schedules more inviting, and what else can you do but believe they are serious about it?
Besides, that’s old news now. When you’ve got a home-and-home with No. 2 UCLA and a road game with No. 20 Oregon waiting, the focus changes in a hurry.
Miller arrived for his post-game media session, tie off, looking bushed, but “excited about how our team played tonight.”
He spoke about the challenges of “17 weeks academically,” about trips to Missouri, Texas, California, Nevada and Hawaii, about “13 games in a short period of time,” and that he “likes being 11-2” and that it’s time for a break.
“Every one of our players can’t wait to get out of here, and I can’t blame them,” he said.
It was the only thing the Lobos and the Wildcats had in common .