The Arizona Wildcats are still the No. 1 team in college basketball. And now they’re poised to break a record that has stood for more than three-quarters of a century.
Last night’s 79-75 victory over UCLA in Los Angeles tied the 1931-32 team that got off to the school’s best season start, with 16 straight wins. A win in Sunday’s game against USC will give this year’s squad sole possession of that record – and chances look good for that to happen. Arizona State beat the Trojans, who are 9-6 and sitting in 11th place in the Pac-12, by 19 points last night.
(*Update 1/13/13: It’s official… a 73-53 win over USC last night has put the 2013-14 squad into the UofA record books. T.J. McConnell and Brandon Ashley led the way into history by scoring 19 points apiece to help Arizona to a 17-0 start. McConnell scored eight points during a 16-2 Wildcat run midway through the second half to enable the Cats to pull away for good. Four Arizona players were in double figures, but for the first time this season the Cats failed to control the boards, with each team pulling down 30 rebounds.)
Jordan Bachynski, ASU’s 7’2″ center, posted a double-double performance, scoring 20 points and collecting 12 rebounds. So Arizona’s 7-foot center, Kaleb Tarczewski, may be in for a big night in his next game. This team is the biggest across the floor since head coach Sean Miller arrived in Tucson five years ago and is outscoring opponents in the paint by an average 15 points a game.
The UCLA win was particularly important because it got the team over a psychological hump. The Cats were beaten three times last season by the Bruins. And this was Arizona’s first conference road game. It was last year’s first road game in the Pac-12, when Oregon beat them. that broke that team’s 14-0 start to the season.
This win didn’t come easy, however. The game went down to the last few seconds as UCLA got within two points with 15 seconds left after going on a 15-1 run in the fourth quarter.
But Nick Johnson‘s 22 points led the way offensively and the Cats controlled the boards as they have done in every game so far, out-rebounding the Bruins, 37-36.
However, they had to overcome some lapses in their normally solid game in order to hold on to their No. 1 ranking. The 17 turnovers were the highest in any game this season and they were just as sloppy with fouls. Three Arizona starters – T.J. McConnell, Aaron Gordon, and Brandon Ashley – played the second half with four fouls, and the defense, which had been holding opponents to just 36 per cent shooting, allowed the most points scored against it all season.
In an unusual scheduling occurrence, this is the only time this year the two teams will meet. So UCLA’s first-year head coach Steve Alford won’t get another crack at the Cats until next year – unless the two teams find themselves matched up in the conference tournament.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)