Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona Basketball Eyes No. 1 Ranking


Photo by Casey Sapio/USA TODAY Sports

March 14, 2003. The last time the Arizona Wildcats were ranked as the No. 1 overall team in the country. Aaron Gordon was seven years old, the No. 1 song in the United States was 50 Cent’s “In Da Club,” the apple iTunes music store was not even invented yet, and Lindsay Lohan was filming for her star role in Disney’s “Freaky Friday.”

Fast forward 10 plus years where the Cats are back to a potential No. 1 ranking. Aaron Gordon is a projected lottery pick in next summer’s NBA Draft, the No. 1 song in the United States is “Timber” by Pitbull featuring Ke$ha, there is an Apple product basically everywhere you look, and who knows where Lindsay Lohan is anymore.

The point is, except for a pattern of financially-themed hip-hop, things have changed.

The top-ranked Michigan State Spartans fell to the North Carolina Tar Heels Wednesday, which puts the second-ranked Arizona Wildcats in position to be the new leaders of the land.

Pause for a second, Arizona (8-0) is still not the number one team, as a hungry UNLV Rebels (3-3) team heads to Tucson, Ariz. on Saturday.

“We’re definitely not intimidated by them at all. If anything, they’re probably intimidated by us,” said University of Connecticut transfer Roscoe Smith, who is averaging an NCAA-best 16.2 rebounds per game.

Smith is much more accurate about this statement than his “last second shot” a few years back. The Arizona Wildcats have lost the Whiteout game each of the last two years. Their last win was in 2010, when Derrick Williams swatted Washington’s Darnell Gant’s shot only a few ticks left on the clock.

The Whiteout game since then has always been the biggest conference home game of the year. College Gameday came to Tucson two years ago in the rematch versus Washington, and the Huskies prevailed in an overtime thriller. Last season, the UCLA Bruins came to town and easily defeated the Wildcats.

This year, the program made a wise decision to make the Whiteout game during the non-conference season. UNLV is the most talented non-conference team to come to Tucson this year, so they will be the ones entering the sold-out McKale Center on Saturday afternoon rather than a familiar conference foe.

How will the Whiteout-Cats play in light of their current position with what is at stake?

They have been one of the most impressive teams thus far this season with their undefeated record and great balance. Everybody knew the potential for this team, and a No. 1 ranking is an outstanding feat.

A win Saturday would put the Arizona Wildcats atop the new polls on Monday.

They must do what they have not done the past two Whiteout games: come out loose. The past two Whiteout games have featured Arizona teams looking like they have everything to lose, nervous, scared. The Wildcats must stay humble and keep playing the way they have been all season long.

The No. 1 ranking does not mean they are the best team in the country. It means they are the best team in the country right now. We will find that out when a team is cutting down the nets in early April. For how spectacular this team has been so far this season, there is always room for improvement.

If the Wildcats do end up winning on Saturday, odds are they will not hold the No. 1 ranking the whole year. There has not been an undefeated team in College Basketball in almost 40 years, dating back to the Indiana Hoosiers perfect season in 1976.

“Don’t believe in hype,” Aaron Gordon tweeted on October 29.

“unlv,” Nick Johnson tweeted after North Carolina defeated Michigan State Wednesday night, showing what he is focused on.

This is the type of mentality the team must have. Survive and advance. Just keep winning.

Grab your white shirts, rest your voices, and get to McKale Center Saturday, Wildcats fans. The potential No. 1 team in the country needs your support for Whiteout 4.0.

Tags: Aaron Gordon Arizona Wildcats Arizona Wildcats Basketball Darnell Gant Follow Index Nick Johnson Roscoe Smithm Derrick Wiliams