Looking at this 2013-14 squad, I was excited because I thought there was no way they would not win a National title. I was looking forward to a new design on the 2014-15 Arizona Wildcat's jersey that had two stars on the top, one with '97 and one with '14. They were no doubt going to win the 'ship in North Texas. That was almost true, as the Wildcats featured a dominant frontline of seasoned sophomores Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski while also welcoming one of the nation's top recruits in Aaron Gordon. The back court featured juniors Nick Johnson and newcomer by way of Dusquene, TJ McConnell. A knock down shooting sophomore Gabe York waited to come off of the bench while an extremely talented and athletic Chester, PA native, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson would come off the bench with him. There was no way they couldn't win. No way. Except for injury.
The first game Arizona lost was a 60-58 nail-biting loss at the hands of the California Golden Bears at Haas Pavilion. A close, regular season loss in the midst of a "Gold-Out" is nothing to hang your head for, but Arizona lost there strength in their front court as Brandon Ashley went down with a foot injury. After the loss, things just weren't the same as the Cats barely beat Oregon at the McKale Center and later lost at ASU. In my opinion, losing to Arizona State deems your football or basketball season as a failure, so I personally wasn't too optimistic at that point. However, Sean Miller managed to change my mindset as the Wildcats demolished the Colorado Buffaloes in Boulder by a score of 88-61. They followed up the win by dominating both Cal and Stanford at home, but the fast pace blowouts couldn't keep up. The Wildcats finished their regular season with a loss in Eugene to the Ducks. The Wildcats couldn't turn the tables in the PAC 12 Conference Tournament as they fell to UCLA. Onto the NCAA Tournament.
Despite four losses, the Cats managed to convince the committee that they were worthy of the second overall seed, hence the No. 1 seed for the West Region. After playing an uninspired game against the Weber State Wildcats, I wasn't terribly confident in having them win the whole thing. However, they were fortunate when they placed against the Gonzaga Bulldogs, a fundamentally sound yet unathletic team. The Wildcats toyed with the Bulldogs as they advanced to the Sweet 16, set up for a rematch with the San Diego State Aztecs. In what proved to be a much more physical affair than their first game, the two teams played with drive and emotion with the Wildcats emerging victorious. Arizona would then be set up for a date with the Wisconsin Badgers, a team notorious for having four "white" starters. Again, fundamentals. The Badgers team that I saw was not more athletic. They didn't have a single dunk. I don't remember the last time Arizona did not dunk in a game. However, I digress. The Wisconsin players knew how to play, despite their lack of athleticism. They would have to shoot their arms off because they can't drive well, pass as much as possible because they can't set up their own shot, scoot their pivot feet around just enough so it wasn't a blatant travel, and make good decisions. They did all of that and in turn, beat the two most athletics teams in the tournaments field, Baylor and Arizona. It's tough to accept that.
So, now that the books are shut on this past season, the question begs: what now? After LaQuinton Ross drilled a three-pointer at the buzzer that put a nail in the 2012-13 team's coffin, I was quite upset yet optimistic. I realized that championships can't be won with even the most talented freshman class because those players lack experience. Next year (this year), the team would be much better though. They'd have a nice combination of Grant Jerrett, Angelo Chol, Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski, Aaron Gordon, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in their front court. Wait a minute, Jerrett and Chol didn't play for Arizona this year. No, Jerrett was drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder and is currently in the D-League and Chol was crying on the bench after Arizona knocked out SDSU from the tournament. Realizing this, I can't help but wonder: What if?
May the 2013-14 Wildcat's season rest in peace.