Column: Arizona celebrates senior day in style

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Arizona men’s basketball senior forward and walk-on Drew Mellon didn’t get the Wildcats to the 100-point plateau with a dunk, but other than that, Senior Day was pretty much perfect.

The No. 5 Wildcats (28-3, 16-2 Pac-12 Conference) waited to cut down the nets and celebrate their second straight, outright Pac-12 championship until after Saturday’s game. When the UA beat Stanford 91-69, that wait paid off.

The Wildcats blew out Stanford, got to play everyone that suited up (Mellon who was 0-for-4 from the field, was the only Wildcat who played not to score), honored the seniors and cut down the nets.

“Really a magical afternoon here in McKale [Center],” Arizona men’s basketball coach Sean Miller said. “I said like the same thing last year, but it is so true — with the fans and the turnout, everybody in red, just the atmosphere the last couple of hours here in McKale.”

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Arizona scored 91 points, 10 Wildcats scored, five scored in double-figures, and the game featured a highlight reel dunk by center Kaleb Tarczewski, and even a dunk by guard Elliott Pitts — but the seniors were the stars.

Senior Day began with senior forward Matt Korcheck starting, and senior point guard T.J. McConnell hit Korcheck with an assist for the first points of the game.

“We just ran a set play, and I thought [Stanford center Stefan] Nastic kind of stayed with me a little too long,” McConnell said, “and Korky was butt naked under the basket.”

As McConnell described the play, Korcheck interrupted to say “it was meant to be” with a laugh.

“The first play was a good pass, and it was good to see Matt catch it and score,” Miller said. “You almost said to yourself, ‘This is going to be our day,’ right after that first play.”

The fans chanted “MVP” for McConnell, a possible Pac-12 player of the year candidate, and “We want Mellon.”

The Wildcats own the nation’s longest home winning streak at 38 games and finished undefeated at home for the second straight season.

“I love this place; like I said before, I truly don’t want to leave,” McConnell said. “This will always be my home, and I’m going to come back as much as I can.”

McConnell scored 10 points and 11 assists to record a double-double. He finished his college career 35-1 at McKale, only losing when he played for Duquesne against Arizona as a sophomore before transferring to the UA for his last two years.

McConnell, who is usually the Wildcats’ only senior starter, kissed the floor as he exited the court.

“I’ve been thinking about it for a while,” McConnell said. “I’ve seen people do it on their Senior Days in college. I respect this place so much, and I love this place so much, that I needed to do something like that.”

Korcheck, who played at Sabino High School in Tucson and at nearby Cochise College, chose Arizona to be a reserve, rather than go elsewhere and play more.

Miller said the players would have unanimously voted to start Korcheck, who was vital to Arizona’s win at Stanford when the rotation big men were in foul trouble. Miller said he thinks Korcheck hasn’t missed a practice in his three years at the UA.

“Matt deserves it; he sacrificed a lot. … He wanted to be a part of this,” Miller said. “He wanted to be a part of our basketball family, and I think what he’s done every day has been nothing short of remarkable.”

Korcheck said playing at Arizona was an amazing opportunity and that he wouldn’t trade it for anything.

“I remember sitting with my dad way up in the nosebleeds, watching the games,” Korcheck said in the postgame press conference. “I never really thought I’d actually get the opportunity to be here, sitting right here right now, but it’s just unbelievable.”

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Follow James Kelley on Twitter.


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