Sometimes, the accomplishments of the great teams and consistently successful programs can almost be taken for granted, and we forget just how much it takes for them to reach their lofty levels.
Recruiting rankings and talent evaluations and all the four- and five-star recruits in the world can only take a team so far. At some point, toughness and stepping up to the task at hand-those things many call intangibles-come into play.
Arizona showed resilience, the ability to adapt and the toughness and moxie needed to win a big road game on Saturday, even when it didn’t play its best. The Wildcats fought back from a 10-point halftime deficit to defeat Gonzaga 68-63 at the McCarthey Center in one of the biggest road wins by any team thus far this season.
It was almost unfathomable in the first half, when the Wildcats almost looked outclassed, in real danger of getting blown out. Kyle Wiltjer was unstoppable on his way to 33 points. Domantas Sabonis was nearly automatic in the low post. Arizona was down 14 late in the first half and, frankly, looked punchless, shooting just 32.3% in the opening 20 minutes.
Then, the game changed, almost mysteriously so. Gabe York sparked the guests with 11 quick points. The Wildcats tightened up their defense inside. Gonzaga started to handle the ball like it was covered in Crisco (16 turnovers for the game). Wiltjer, Sabonis and the rest went ice cold down the stretch, scoring seven points in the last 11+ minutes. The power of getting stops defensively helped Arizona find a way to stay in the game, take the lead late and then finish down the stretch, with freshmen Allonzo Trier and Kadeem Allen among those scrapping together a winning effort, even as Allen was held scoreless but had five rebounds, two steals and a hustling blocked shot late.
The Wildcats won a game on the road in which they shot 9 of 19 from the foul line and played without injured center Kaleb Tarczewski. (In fairness, Gonzaga played without Przemek Karnowski, who missed the game due to back spasms). A young team found a way to win in a hostile environment while not at its best and certainly grew up considerably on Saturday.
Arizona’s win was one of a number of important games on a surprisingly meaty Saturday in December. The day really had the feel of a big weekend in late January or early February, with rivalries and gut checks going on all day, even while the major colleges finally wrapped up their (too long) football regular season.
- Hoopville czar Phil Kasiecki has a review of many of Saturday’s biggest games, plus he looks at a terrific Providence-Rhode Island rivalry game won at the buzzer by the Friars.
- Scanning a few other notable results from Saturday…Arkansas-Little Rock improved to 7-0 with a 64-54 win at Idaho. The Trojans are becoming one of the nation’s best stories through the first month of the season.
- Another continues to be Texas-Arlington. Anyone thinking the Mavericks are a fluke should reconsider after UTA won convincingly at UTEP 76-62.
- Missouri State got a big road win as Dequon Miller’s hoop with seven seconds left was the winner in a 64-63 win at Oklahoma State. The Bears have been competitive early but had little to show for it. Meanwhile, the Cowboys now have already lost to George Mason, Tulsa and now Missouri State.
- Speaking of Tulsa, the Golden Hurricane continues to be one of the most difficult teams to get a read on in the country. Oral Roberts won at TU 70-68 in the battle for the city of Tulsa as Obi Emegano hit the winner with two seconds left. ORU now has defeated Tulsa three straight years.
- Mississippi picked up a nice comeback win at Massachusetts 74-64 as Stefan Moody tied his career high with 30 points.
- UAB won at Illinois State 74-61 in a game notable for two things. For one, it’s a good road win for the Blazers, who have sputtered some early but shot 50%. For another, the Redbirds shot 5 of 32 from three-point range, including 0-for-17 shooting from deep from their starters. Ouch.
- Many Sunday church services and masses won’t even be out yet when St. Francis (N.Y.) takes on St. John’s in a morning meeting (11 a.m. EST, FS1) at historic Madison Square Garden. The game is part of the ol’ ECAC Holiday Festival, which has been played since 1952 and also includes Hofstra and Appalachian State in the second game.
- The best game of the day has Vanderbilt at Baylor (8 p.m., ESPNU), a matchup of two top 25 teams. Should be loads of fun to watch in the paint with Damian Jones against Rico Gathers.
- Another attractive game is Davidson at North Carolina (6 p.m., ESPNU), a pair of high-octane offensive teams.
- VCU is at Florida State (2 p.m., ESPNU) at a neutral site in Atlanta in a rematch of their 2010 Sweet 16 game and one that could have serious resume implications in March.
- Colorado at Colorado State is kind of the Providence-Rhode Island of rivalries out west, perhaps underappreciated nationally but always a worthwhile watch.
- UC Irvine is at St. Mary’s in a big game that should help settle the pecking order on the west coast.
- UCLA plays for the first time since stunning Kentucky, and the Bruins have a tricky test with Long Beach State. The 49ers continue to play well and will play their second game in two nights after upending New Mexico State Saturday. Meanwhile, surprising Cal State-Fullerton tries for its seventh straight win when it goes to Washington.
Enjoy a relaxing Sunday.