Arizona Wildcats’ program built on resilience


Sean Miller talks about the court storming by Colorado fans after the Buffaloes’ 75-72 win, urging the Pac-12 to do something because of imminent danger to an Arizona player and perhaps a fan who feels the brunt of an Arizona player defending himself.

Arizona has lost four games on the road in the Pac-12 this season by a combined total of only nine points and the Wildcats had a chance to either tie or go ahead until the last second in those games.

The bitter losses to UCLA, USC, Cal and now Colorado are like burned images on a television screen — you can’t get rid of them. …

Bryce Alford over Kaleb Tarczewski on a defensive breakdown with one second left at Pauley Pavilion … Gabe York and Kadeem Allen not able to get a clean look at the hoop at the end of the fourth overtime at USC after York mishandles the ball. …

York driving to the basket at Cal with a tough look, at least three defenders in front of him, ending with a wild miss. … York losing the ball out of bounds but Arizona getting a reprieve after Colorado’s Josh Scott travels. Allonzo Trier’s contested last-second three-point attempt at the buzzer bangs off the rim. …

Nic Wise, where have you gone?

Arizona won four last-second games in Sean Miller’s first season, with three of those shots made by Wise against Lipscomb, North Carolina State and USC. MoMo Jones won the other game on a 10-foot jump shot that banked in at the buzzer at Stanford, Arizona’s last final-second win on the road, six long seasons ago.

In Miller’s seventh season, Arizona has come up short in four of those type of games. As a result, the Wildcats are 10-5 in the Pac-12 (their other loss a decisive win for Oregon at McKale Center). The five losses match the amount Arizona suffered in the previous two seasons combined — 15-3 in 2013-14 and 16-2 last season.

Despite the number of setbacks this season, the Wildcats’ season and hopes are not lost. If anything, the difficult losses can make them tougher with pressure-filled games ahead in the Pac-12 tournament and NCAA tournament.

One constant in Arizona’s history under Lute Olson and Miller: What could be demoralizing defeats do not have a lingering effect. In fact, Arizona showed its mettle afterward.

In the 1987-88 season, Arizona’s first run to the Final Four, the Wildcats lost 82-74 at Stanford in early February after beating the Cardinal 90-65 a month earlier at McKale Center. Sean Elliott, Steve Kerr and Co. won 15 straight thereafter before losing to Oklahoma in the Final Four. …

In Arizona’s second Final Four season of 1993-94, the Wildcats won the Pac-10 with a 14-4 record after going 17-1 the previous season. They lost at ASU, NIT-caliber at 15-13, in the regular-season finale before winning four consecutive games to reach the Final Four, where it lost to Arkansas. …

Arizona senior center Kaleb Tarczewski’s eight points against Colorado moved him to No. 40 on the Wildcats’ career scoring list with 1,130 points. He joins Anthony Cook and Channing Frye as the only Arizona players to be in the school’s top 40 in scoring and top 10 in rebounds and blocked shots.

Rank: Overall school ranking.

Rank Name Years Points
2. Bob Elliott 1973-77 2131
9. Channing Frye 2001-05 1789
14. Anthony Cook 1985-89 1590
15. Sean Rooks 1988-92 1497
25. Frank Smith 1979-83 1329
32. Jordan Hill 2006-09 1208
40. Kaleb Tarczewski 2012-16 1130
43. A.J. Bramlett 1995-99 1098
44. Joseph Blair 1992-96 1086
52. Ed Stokes 1989-93 984


Reb Player Years
1190 Al Fleming 1973-76
1083 Bob Elliott 1974-77
975 Channing Frye 2001-05
861 Anthony Cook 1986-89
837 Bill Reeves 1954-57
832 Michael Wright 1998-2001
824 Ernie McCray 1957-60
817 A.J. Bramlett 1996-99
815 Kaleb Tarczewski 2013-16
808 Sean Elliott 1986-89


Blocks Player Years
278 Anthony Cook 1986-89
258 Channing Frye 2002-05
186 Loren Woods 2000-01
167 Ed Stokes 1990-93
142 Sean Rooks 1989-92
140 Jordan Hill 2007-09
106 Kaleb Tarczewski 2013-16
104 A.J. Bramlett 1996-99
101 Joseph Blair 1993-96
85 Hassan Adams 2003-06

In 1996-97, the magical title year, Arizona finished the regular season 19-9 overall and in fifth place in the Pac-10 with an 11-7 record. The Wildcats lost by one-point at Stanford and by two against Cal at San Francisco to end the regular season. Arizona lost four of its last five road games. Some bickering took place in the locker room after the bitter loss to the Bears, who won despite their star guard Ed Gray, the conference player of the year, being out with a foot injury. Arizona’s six-game win streak to glory in the NCAA tournament followed. …

In the 2000-01 run to the NCAA title game, the Wildcats, with eight losses that season, fell in overtime at UCLA in mid-February after routing the Bruins by 25 points a month previously in McKale. Jason Gardner, Richard Jefferson, Gilbert Arenas and the group won 11 straight games thereafter before losing to Duke in the championship. In that same season, Arizona had a 5-5 stretch, including a loss to Mississippi State in the Fiesta Bowl tournament title game at McKale when Olson’s wife Bobbi was near the end with her fight against cancer. …

Miller’s teams have lost games at ASU the previous two seasons yet made it to the Elite Eight both years. In Arizona’s Elite Eight season of 2010-11, the Wildcats lost by a combined 30 points at USC (65-57) and UCLA (71-49) in late February. Their only loss after that (before losing to UConn in the last seconds of the Elite Eight game) occurred on a shot at the buzzer by Washington’s Isaiah Thomas in the conference tournament title game. …

The point: Arizona has become what it is, a premier program in the nation, by answering every setback with a series of victories and overwhelming accomplishments. They are the antonym to a flash in the pan.

Arizona’s longest losing streak under Olson after his first season (1983-84) was only three games, which happened three times, two of them in his his last two seasons of 2005-06 and 2006-07. Kevin O’Neill never lost more than two straight games in 2007-08. Arizona had a four-game losing streak under interim coach Russ Pennell in 2008-09 — a mild accomplishment considering the talent level of that team and the uncertainty of the program’s direction.

Miller lost three in a row twice in his first season but has not had more than a two-game losing stretch since.

The best keep looking forward. They don’t dwell on failure. If history holds true, Arizona has its sights on Utah on Saturday and challenges beyond, not on the refs blowing a call off the replay monitor late against Colorado. publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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