Will Arizona basketball's luck run out?
Lefty Gomez, an All-Star pitcher with the Yankees in the 1930s, is said to have coined the phrase “I’d rather be lucky than good.”
The No. 4 Arizona basketball team (14-0, 2-0 Pac-12) is certainly lucky, but whether or not it’s as good as its ranking indicates is still up for discussion.
The weekly AP Top 25 poll released on Monday had Arizona dropping from No. 3 to No. 4, despite not losing a game yet this season.
The team that jumped them, Louisville, has one loss.
Presumably, voters didn’t take too kindly to the Colorado controversy or way-too-close-for-comfort win against Utah.
Many are calling them the “Cardiac ‘Cats,” and it’s pretty clear why.
Games against Florida, San Diego State, Colorado and Utah have all come down to the last shot.
“The objective, I guess, is to win by the biggest margin we possibly can,” head coach Sean Miller said at a Monday press conference. “We’re failing in that area but I know we’re 14-0, and I know to be 14-0 you need to be in a number of close games.”
Just look at the game against Colorado in the Pac-12 opener on Jan. 3 at McKale Center.
At one point in the first half, Arizona trailed by 17 points. For more than half of the game it trailed by at least 10.
With 1:44 remaining, the Wildcats were down 78-70.
They got it to within two points with 16 seconds left, and after a foul and two missed Colorado free throws, Arizona tied the game on two Lyons’s makes from the charity stripe.
You know what happens next.
Sabatino Chen banked in a 3-point jumper as time expired. The Buffs rejoiced, game over.
Or not. Officials decided to overturn the call, Arizona won 92-83 in overtime, and Twitter exploded.
Talk about playing with fire.
“Luck is on our side right now, but it won’t be on our side forever,” sixth man Kevin Parrom said after the Colorado game.
After narrowly escaping the Utes with a 60-57 win, Parrom said virtually the same thing.
“I think tonight we expected to win by 20 because it’s Utah,” said Parrom, who has garnered 23 points and 16 rebounds in the last two games, “but they played hard from start to finish and we pulled out another lucky one. [We’ve been] lucky for a couple weeks now but that luck is gonna run out soon and we gotta play hard as a team.”
It’s not all luck, though.
As the No. 4 team in the nation and the lone ranked Pac-12 squad, Arizona has a target on its back. Teams play their best against the best, and right now the UA is the cream of the crop.
This weekend, the Wildcats travel to Oregon to take on UO (12-2, 1-0) and Oregon State (10-4, 0-1). The Ducks are probably the second or third best team in the conference right now, so that should be another tightly contested game.
“We’re going to get everybody’s best shot,” said Lyons, who has shot 9-of-30 in the last two games. “So when we have close games and stuff like that, personally, I never worry. I know people are going to try to play their best against us.”
Colorado followed up its collapse against the UA with a 9-point loss to ASU, while Utah has losses to Sacramento State, SMU and Cal State Northridge.
If Arizona is going to go deep into the NCAA tournament in March, it will have to start playing up its potential, instead of down to its opponents.
“We can play better, we have played better,” Miller said. “I know that where we hope to be, we’re not anywhere close to that.”
As Parrom said, the luck might eventually run out. But, hey, the Wildcats spent most of last year on the other side of that coin, so it’s not all bad.
Not counting the “postseason” NIT loss to Bucknell, Arizona lost its 11 games by an average of 5.5 points per game. In fact, in the Pac-12 Championship game against the Buffs, ex-Wildcat Kyle Fogg missed a shot at the buzzer that would have sent Arizona to the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.
“It’s not that easy,” Miller said after beating Colorado. “It’s not all luck, but there is some good fortune. Last year we had four or five games that came to the last shot and I don’t know if we ever won one.”