Column: Ranking the top 10 UA sports moments over last five years
Whether you’re a Tucson native, an Arizona alum or an Arizona student, chances are you’ve seen at least one of UA’s sports teams play. And over the last five years, there has been plenty of heartache but we won't dive into that today.
Instead, we'll look on the bright side and countdown a list of the top 10 moments in UA sports since 2014.
An argument can be made for many other moments/games to be included on this list, but this ranking aims to include moments from a variety of sports that had a lasting impact.
By no means is this a definitive ranking, so if you’ve got your own suggestions, please feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org.
10. “A grown man’s move” (2017)
Arizona versus UCLA in men’s basketball is always a sight to see, but this one meant more. Less than 24 hours prior to the biggest game of the season to that point, it was announced UA guard Allonzo Trier would return to the court after being suspended the first 19 games for a positive PED test.
Trier, arguably one of the best scorers in college hoops at the time, lifted No. 14 Arizona to an 96-85 upset of No. 3-ranked UCLA in Pauley Pavilion with 12 points in the nationally broadcasted game.
With Arizona leading by five points with seven minutes to go, Trier got a two-on-one pass from Kobi Simmons and slammed home a ferocious dunk leading to CBS play-by-play announcer Ian Eagle calling it “a grown man’s move to the rim.” The dunk emphatically marked the return of a budding college star and a team with Final Four aspirations.
Trier played the rest of the season for the top 10-ranked Wildcats, leading them to another a Pac-12 Tournament Championship and a Sweet 16 appearance.
9. “Guard Who?” (2017)
Dec. 30, 2017. That was supposed to be the day ASU men’s basketball dethroned Sean Miller and the Wildcats. The No. 3-ranked Sun Devils were the talk of college hoops in the non-conference portion of the season, jumping out to an unprecedented 12-0 start and knocking off No. 2 Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse along the way. The Sun Devils even branded themselves as “Guard U,” a knock at the UA’s “Point Guard U” theme.
Meanwhile, Arizona entered the year ranked No. 3 in the preseason polls, bolstered by the arrival of top recruit – and future No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick – Deandre Ayton but suffered three straight losses in November to briefly fall out of the top-25 poll.
The rivalry game in McKale Center was dubbed as the chance Bobby Hurley and the Sun Devils could prove they were the new force in the state of Arizona. Miller and company had other plans. The No. 17-ranked Wildcats led for the majority of the game, and Ayton couldn’t be stopped, as the 7-footer poured in 23 points and 19 rebounds, with an and-one dunk to put Arizona up double digits with four minutes left and then a tip-in with under 30 seconds to put the ‘Cats up four, securing an 84-78 win.
From then on, the Sun Devils would not regain their non-conference magic, losing nine of their next 17 games and dropping a First Four game in the NCAA Tournament. Arizona went on to win the Pac-12 Championship for the second-consecutive season.
8. "We broke the curse" (2019)
After eight long seasons – with heartbreaking moments year after year – Arizona softball finally made it back to the Women's College World Series. The Wildcats swept Ole Miss in the Super Regional to advance to the WCWS for the 23rd time in program history and first time since 2010.
The journey to get back to the crown jewel of college softball wasn't an easy road, though, as the Wildcats had been eliminated from the postseason the previous five years in the Super Regional round.
"Our motto this year was 'one team, one heartbeat,' and it definitely showed on the field which is why we broke the curse and we’re going to where we should be,” Dejah Mulipola said after beating Ole Miss.
Arizona rolled through the Regional and Super Regional round, going undefeated and outscoring opponents 33-8 over the two weekend stretch and had the second highest attendance in the team's postseason history as 2,835 fans watched the clinching game over the Rebels.
7. Hungry for more (2019)
Several historic moments took place during the 2019 WNIT, when Arizona women’s basketball took home the championship. It was its first WNIT title since 1996, when now-head coach Adia Barnes was playing in an Arizona uniform.
Attendance more than tripled in McKale Center over the six-game stretch, and the championship game turned in 14,644 fans, the largest crowd in program and Pac-12 women’s basketball history. Redshirt sophomore Aari McDonald earned WNIT MVP after averaging over 20 points in the tournament. Hosting all six games also helped Arizona earn a net profit of $106,051.
After cutting down the nets in a thrilling win over Northwestern, Barnes said the program is “hungry for more” heading into the coming years.
6. Tate breaks rushing record (2017)
In October 2017, Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate ran away with an NCAA record – quite literally. Entering the first quarter of a game at Colorado after starter Brandon Dawkins got hurt, Tate announced himself to the college football world with a mesmerizing 327 yards rushing for a new FBS record. The sophomore had touchdown runs of 25, 47, 58 and 75 yards, along with throwing for 154 yards and a touchdown.
Tate’s video-game-like numbers propelled Arizona to a 45-42 win in Boulder and paved the way for his name in the Heisman Trophy conversation. The quarterback was 40 rushing yards shy of the program single-game record held by running back Ka’Deem Carey. Tate went on to post a historic season for the Wildcats, becoming the first player to be Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week four-straight weeks.
When talking about all-time performances in a single game, Tate’s is as good as any.
5. Dramatic single sends ‘Cats to CWS (2016)
Who would have guessed that a first-year head coach would accomplish so much in one season? Jay Johnson was named the head coach of the Wildcats baseball program in 2016 and led the ‘Cats to 38 regular-season wins, tied for most in program history.
In the NCAA Tournament, the UA won its regional 3-0 and then traveled across the country to play in the Super Regional at Mississippi State. After winning the first game of the best of three series, Arizona didn’t get out to a good start in game two. Mississippi State led 5-1 heading into the eighth inning before the Wildcats’ bats ignited. UA pulled within one run going into the bottom of the ninth, and then Alfonso Rivas singled to score Cody Ramer, sending the game into extra innings.
In the bottom of the 11th, Cesar Salazar delivered a walk-off single with two outs and the bases loaded to send the Wildcats to the College World Series in Omaha for the first time since 2012. Arizona kept the momentum going and advanced to the championship game, but it eventually lost in a three-game series against Coastal Carolina.
4. Down goes No. 2 (2014)
24-point underdogs? No problem. Unranked Arizona football stunned No. 2 Oregon in Eugene in October 2014, winning 31-24. Running back Nick Wilson scored three touchdowns, and backfield teammate Terris Jones-Grigsby had go-ahead touchdown run with 2:54 remaining in the fourth quarter.
With 2:11 left, linebacker Scooby Wright III strip-sacked Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and recovered the football to help the Wildcats send the Ducks home with their first loss of the season. The win boosted Arizona all the way to No. 10 in the AP poll and was one of the many memorable wins of the 2014 season.
It also marked back-to-back seasons Arizona defeated Oregon when the Ducks were ranked in the top five of the AP poll.
3. Moore’s putt for the win (2018)
Not all heroes wear capes, and women’s golfer Haley Moore is one of those heroes. In the championship match against Alabama, Moore sunk a birdie putt in a playoff on the 19th hole to win Arizona the 2018 National Championship.
Tied with Alabama 2-2, it was down to Arizona’s Moore and ‘Bama’s Lakareber Abe to decide the championship. Moore and Abe were tied after 19 holes, forcing a winner-take-all playoff. Moore had a clean approach to the green and dramatically sunk the putt to end it.
The No. 8-seeded Wildcats weren’t even considered serious championship contenders, yet they somehow pulled off a magical run to win the title that ended in Moore’s teammates racing across the greens of Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., to hug her.
2. Wildcats win 14 straight along with Pac-12 Tournament Championship (2015)
Coming off an Elite Eight loss in 2014, Arizona men's basketball returned a good chunk of its roster and added top-10 recruit in Stanley Johnson. The 2014-15 team went 34-4, the second-most wins in a season in program history (1987-88) and the second season in a row Miller won more than 30 games.
The Wildcats stormed through the tournament, knocking off Colorado, UCLA and Oregon and winning games by an average of 18 points. The victory over UCLA avenged the 2013 semifinal loss – better known as the “He touched the ball” game – and the 2014 championship game loss to the Bruins.
The win over Oregon ensured Arizona would earn a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and gave fully healthy Wildcats perhaps their best shot at a Final Four.
Yes, the season ended in another loss to Wisconsin in the Elite Eight, but the Wildcats had won a remarkable 14 games in a row prior to that and have been listed in on NCAA.com as one of the 10 best teams since 2000 to not win a national title.
1. Arizona football wins the Pac-12 South (2014)
How ‘bout this for a rivalry game? It was one of the most anticipated Territorial Cup games in history and held in Tucson with a winner-take-all sweepstakes for a trip to the Pac-12 Championship game. No. 11 Arizona entered the game with a 9-2 record, as did No. 13 ASU.
Three plays into the game, UA linebacker Scooby Wright III forced a sack-fumble on ASU’s Taylor Kelly, allowing Anthony Lopez to scoop up the loose ball and return it 25 yards for a touchdown. Wildcat running back Nick Wilson stormed out of the backfield with 178 yards and three touchdowns on the day, and quarterback Anu Solomon tossed a pair of touchdowns to Samajie Grant.
Arizona had a 35-21 lead heading into the fourth, but the Sun Devils – led by backup QB Mike Bercovici – pulled the game within one possession on two separate scoring drives. With the game on the line in the final minute, the Arizona defense stepped up and intercepted Bercovici to seal the win and the Pac-12 South. Students and fans alike stormed the field after the clock hit 0:00, marking one of the biggest wins in program history.
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