Light the candles…UA basketball parties in McKale tonight

The Arizona men’s basketball team is hosting a birthday party tonight, and hoping 14,545 noisy party-goers show up to help celebrate.

That’s how many fans can be seated in McKale Center, which will recognize 40 years of hosting University of Arizona basketball games.  The Wildcats beat Wyoming, 87-69, in a Feb. 1 game back in 1973 that christened the $8.1 million facility (full name: McKale Memorial Center) that was named after former UofA coach and athletic director, J.F. “Pop” McKale.

In today’s dollars, that construction cost would equate to about $42 million.

An additional 36,000 square feet was added to the building in 2002 with the construction of a strength and conditioning facility.  That renovation project cost $14 million – almost twice what it cost the school to build the center in the first place.

The historic old landmark on the Tucson campus has been put to good use through the years, frequently hosting NCAA Tournament games.  In 1988, McKale was the site of the Pac-10 men’s tournament.

But it has also served on more solemn occasions.  McKale drew national attention two years ago when it hosted the memorial service for those killed in the Tucson shooting that wounded U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and killed or wounded 18 other people gathered at a political event.

Tonight, the atmosphere will move to the other end of the spectrum as the No. 7-ranked Cats welcome Stanford to the comfortable security of their home court, where they will play five of their remaining nine games.

The Cardinal (14-8, 5-4) are coming off an 81-73 win over Oregon State, while Arizona is also riding some momentum after completing its first road sweep of the season in Washington with a 79-65 victory at Washington State.

Arizona has won its last three games, averaging 70 points during that span – which is what Stanford averages for the season.   But Stanford has been holding opponents to 64 points an outing, and has won the battle of the boards most often, with a +3 rebounding margin.

The Cats will be looking to its senior duo of 6’7″ forward Solomon Hill and point guard Mark Lyons for a big chunk of the scoring output.  Lyons scored a game-high 20 points against Washington State and Hill added 18.

A good share of that offensive fire power has come from behind the three-point line, where Arizona has recorded double figures from behind the arc on four occasions this season.  The Cats hit 11 treys against the Cougars.

It has been almost a year to the day when Arizona and Stanford last met.  The Cats won that game, on Feb. 4 in Palo Alto, 56-43, to make it 12 wins out of the last 16 meetings.

And these two teams should keep the party festive tonight, as McKale once again rocks to the familiar sound of shrill whistles and squeaking rubber.

Party on, Wildcat fans…but dunk responsibly!