Feb. 25, 2017: The date that will go down in the Arizona Athletics history books
When it’s all said and done, Feb. 25, 2017, will go down as one of the most memorable and signature days in Arizona Athletics history. Of course the primary focus of Saturday was the basketball matchup with No. 5 UCLA and No. 4 Arizona, but the UA was the hotspot for headlines.
From the first top-five battle in the Pac-12 Conference since 2008 to hiring a new athletic director, the final Saturday of February will always go down in history books of arguably the most iconic day for UA sports.
The most talked-about headline for Arizona was ESPN’s College GameDay coming to town to spotlight arguably the most crucial home game for head coach Sean Miller in his time at Arizona. This wasn’t just the normal conference game, but rather a step closer to the No. 1 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament, as well as the NCAA Tournament.
The sun didn’t peak over the mountains before the line of fans waiting to get inside McKale Center was pushing the curb on Cherry Avenue.
GameDay anchor Rece Davis said McKale Center was the “most engaging” crowd the show has had all season, but every analyst selected UCLA to win and looks like they were right. Overall it was the third time the GameDay crew came to the Old Pueblo and the college basketball world had its eyes on the Wildcats and Bruins.
New man in charge
Shortly after GameDay, when the atmosphere on the UA campus was calm and there was the “downtime” until the basketball game started, Arizona hired Dave Heeke from Central Michigan as the new athletic director, replacing Greg Byrne who left for Alabama and interim director Erika Barnes.
“I am pleased and excited that Dave [Heeke] has accepted the position,” UA President Ann Weaver Hart said in a release statement. “He has experience at the highest levels of competitive college sports and he is an acknowledged national leader among NCAA athletic directors. Dave is a perfect match for our Wildcat family.”
Heeke has Pac-12 experience serving as an associate athletics director at Oregon for 18 years, handling a $40 million budget. He’s been the athletic director at CMU since 2006 and had a $22.5 million project to renovate the Rose Center where the Chippewas play basketball, volleyball and wrestle.
The news broke from the Detroit Free Press just before 1 p.m., and just like that, a new Vice President for Athletics was the second domino to fall Saturday.
Related: Arizona hires new Athletic Director
Arizona football making history
Who would’ve thought in February, especially coming off a 3-9 season, Arizona football would be in the news unrelated to spring football.
2017 recruit and defensive end from Tempe My-King Johnson became the first openly gay scholarship player in Football Bowl Subdivision history. The Arizona Daily Star profiled Johnson and mentioned during his recruiting defensive line coach Vince Amey told him, “We want you to be a Wildcat.”
Johnson came out as openly gay when he was 12 years old and always felt comfortable with who he is as a person. As a football player, Johnson will look to play a major role in Arizona’s defensive line next season.
Baseball is rolling
Arizona baseball is already has the best start under head coach Jay Johnson, going 7-0 after handling McNeese State 12-3.It’s also the best open to a season since 2007 and the Wildcats have scored 78 runs so far this season while hitting .376; however, Arizona has a date with Arkansas on Friday, so maybe the Razorbacks can give the ‘Cats their first loss of the season.
For now, Johnson and his staff continue to succeed in the non-conference circuit.
Kadeem Allen’s nightmare
Miller has never lost on senior night and the last team to lose on the final home game of the season was in 2008—ironically against UCLA.
Miller preached about Allen’s leadership and defensive presence he brings to the team all season long. With the game on the line on the last possession for Arizona as they trailed by 3, Allen’s legacy moment was to hit a 3-pointer and send the game into overtime.
Instead Allen’s shot was wide right and didn’t even touch the basket, making the Bruins victorious in Tucson. Unfortunately for Allen, being the lone senior, McKale Center still honored him after the game despite the outcome.
“I certainly did not want one game to take away from one of the greatest kids I’ve ever coached,” Miller said.
Miller didn’t want Allen to receive flak, emphasizing that he’s still one of the best defenders and overall men Miller has came across at Arizona. From North Carolina to junior college to playing at a blue-blood program like Arizona, Allen took the road less traveled and has become the true leader of the team, no matter what the outcome.
“In my mind, he has become a man out here in Tucson,” Miller said. “He is one of the best defenders we have ever had. Our team’s leader, heart and soul.”
Softball falls short to No. 1 Florida State
The No. 9-ranked Arizona softball team had a recognizable game as the Wildcats took on No. 1 Florida State in the final game of the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic.
The Wildcats fell to the Seminoles 1-0 and got their first loss of the season after starting 15-0. Going 0-for-2 at bat, Alyssa Palomino struck out swinging with a runner on second base, so both softball and basketball came down to the wire with a chance to tie it, but neither could execute.
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