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Wednesday, July 30, 2014 | Last updated: 4:17pm

Column: Arizona basketball's shining moment is near



Deep in the heart of Texas, Connecticut won the 2014 NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship Monday night.

While Arizona lost in the Elite Eight, the Wildcats seem destined to return to the Final Four as often as the royal-blue Wildcats of Kentucky.

Arizona was only a shot away from punching its ticket to Texas.

On the surface, Arizona doesn’t seem to have much in common with UConn and Kentucky, other than both being basketball blue bloods.

Neither Kentucky or UConn was even in the NCAA tournament last year, when Arizona made the Sweet Sixteen. The Huskies were a No. 7 seed and Kentucky a No. 8 seed.

Neither team won its NCAA tournament games in a dominant fashion; Kentucky lost 11 games and UConn was defeated by SMU twice.

These two teams aren’t Cinderellas, though, in spite of their low seeds.

While Kentucky was a No. 8 seed, it’s supremely talented and was ranked No. 1 the first two weeks of the season. Meanwhile, UConn only missed the NCAA tournament last year because of its academic performance. On the court the Huskies were 20-10 in 2012-13.

UConn had stability — no one transferred when it was banned from the postseason last year — and Kentucky had a stable of fabulous recruits.

Arizona has both, and it won’t be long until its fans are taking to the streets on championship night again — and not for something like the Elite Eight.

Remember, Arizona lost two NBA Draft picks in 2013, Solomon Hill and Grant Jerrett, another starter in Mark Lyons, key glue-guy Kevin Parrom and reserve big man Angelo Chol.

The Wildcats reloaded with a top-five recruiting class in 2013, according to ESPN. Right now ESPN ranks Arizona’s 2014 class No. 9.

While Arizona was ranked No. 1 for eight weeks, the familiar refrain from most college hoops analysts was that there was not a dominant team this season.

That’s probably because the Wildcats were out of sight for most of the country, since they beat Michigan on the road in December. Arizona spent many nights on the Pac-12 Networks, missing from DirecTV subscriptions and played a bunch of late games.

An 8 p.m. game in Arizona starts at 10 or 11 p.m. on the East Coast.

In reality, Arizona was that dominant team. It was 21-0 with sophomore forward Brandon Ashley, but slumped to a 12-5 record when he was injured in the game against Cal.

Last year an injury like that would have sent Arizona to a record more like 5-12. Head coach Sean Miller keeps strengthening the program to the point where it can handle losses like that, or losing freshman forward Aaron Gordon and junior guard Nick Johnson to the NBA.

The Miller Wildcats keep creeping closer to the Final Four. It shouldn’t be long until they have their own “One Shining Moment.”

—Follow James Kelley @JamesKelley520


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