The Star's Bruce Pascoe provides key moments and a big number from Arizona's thrilling 76-72 victory over UConn.
The way to go
For Arizona, the long trip to Hartford was hardly that.
Thanks to charter airplane travel, the Wildcats were able to practice at McKale Center on Saturday morning, then boarded a flight that took only 3 hours and 53 minutes to reach Bradley International Airport north of Hartford. They were in their hotel by 6 p.m., had dinner and prepared for Sunday’s game.
“The charter makes everything easier,” center Chase Jeter said.
The Wildcats had considered flying out on Friday because of the early start Sunday but nixed the idea. They really didn’t need to.
“it was a possibility, but we didn’t want to miss school,” said Ryan Reynolds, UA’s director of basketball operations.
UA will repeat the itinerary next weekend for its Dec. 9 game at Alabama, and the flight will be even shorter that time.
Return on investment
Arizona’s performance Sunday against UConn was also a victory for its developmental efforts.
The Wildcats annually pick a nonconference road trip in which to invite donors at its top two levels -- platinum ($20,000) and diamond ($50,000) – and about 100 of them joined the Wildcats for their charter flight to Hartford on Saturday for this season's journey.
The donors were rewarded with a night out in Hartford on Saturday, and the Wildcats’ biggest win of the season so far on Sunday, then a ride home with a happy basketball team.
“It was a lot of fun,” UA athletic director Dave Heeke said. “It’s always fun for fan bases to step outside the footprint and see basketball in a different venue, coming to the Northeast for basketball in such a basketball-centric environment.”
Heeke and UA president Robert Robbins also spent Sunday morning at a UA alumni function with about 200 people attending. The enthusiasm carried over into the XL Center, where about 1,000 of the 14,603 fans were rooting for the Wildcats.
“You could hear the U of A chants all the way here in Hartford, Connecticut,” Heeke said. “There’s obviously a great fan base and passion.”
Akot starts again
For the second straight game, UA coach Sean Miller started sophomore Emmanuel Akot over senior Ryan Luther at power forward.
The reasons are two-fold: Luther is recovering from a finger injury on his left hand and working to regain confidence, while Miller appears to be trying to boost Akot’s confidence level by starting him.
“I believe a lot like Ryan, the more he plays, the more confidence he’ll get and the more he’ll be able to help us,” Miller said of Akot.
On Sunday, Akot had six points and five rebounds in 27 minutes while Luther had 10 points and four rebounds in 20.
“I thought he played with more confidence today and he’s a couple of weeks away from when he got injured,” Miller said of Luther. “You can see he gives us another weapon out there. He’s an excellent free throw shooter, and I know he had a couple of inside baskets. It’s difficult when you hurt your hand because basketball is so much about catching the ball and dribbling, but I think he’s more confident.”
There’s a strong Northeast flavor in the XL Center concourse. Literally.
Among the local concession options are Ted’s steamed cheeseburgers, a gooey concoction in which both the meat and cheese are steamed, while fans could also try a sausage and peppers basket, and finish things off with Carvel ice cream.
Beer drinkers also had several options from Connecticut's Two Roads Brewing Co. for $9 each, including ‘Lil Heaven IPA.”
Five-star singing prospect
NCAA.com and former ESPN college basketball reporter Andy Katz brought his daughter along for Sunday’s game, but she didn’t join him in the media seats.
Instead, she walked on the XL Center floor before the game, and belted out a wildly applauded rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.
Lucia Katz’ performance just might help draw college offers, too. She’s a junior at both Hall High School in West Hartford and the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts.
The big number
Wins in Arizona’s last 11 nonconference road games.
He said it
With new coach Dan Hurley, “UConn in great hands and you can almost feel it with how hard their guys play and just being back here. This will never be an easy place to get a win. It never has been and certainly won’t be in the future.”
- UA coach Sean Miller