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Arizona Wildcats’ Top 10 Moments of 2011: #1-5


This week I broke down moments #6-10 of the Arizona Wildcats’ Top 10 Moments of 2011. Here’s a recap of the bottom half:
10. Arizona State’s coaching search becomes a complete joke.
9. Arizona’s coaching search does not.
8. Sean Miller secures the top recruiting class for 2012
7. Wildcats give Tucson a distraction the day after tragedy
6. Sean Miller decides to stay in Tucson.

Now, for this special holiday edition of Zona Zealots, I give you the “Top 5 Arizona Wildcats’ Moments According to One Fan Who Loves Football and Basketball:

5. Nick Foles and Juron Criner Break Records

Though this football season did not go too well, there were a few positives. Juron Criner broke the school record for most touchdown catches (32). Nick Foles became the best quarterback in Arizona’s history, breaking school records in passing yards, completions, attempts, total offense and tying the school record for touchdown passes. He is the only quarterback in school history to throw for over 4,000 yards in a single season and only the 10th player in Pac-12 history to throw over 10,000 yards in his career. Arizona fans will most likely enjoy watching Criner and Foles play on Sundays next year.

4. Kevin Parrom Overcomes Adversity.

There are some things that no college kid should ever have to go through, but Kevin Parrom suffered two tragedies within the span of a month. First, Parrom was shot in the leg while he was in New York visiting his sick mother; shortly afterwards, his mother passed away. Due to the gunshot wound to his leg and the death of his mother, no one knew when or if Parrom would return to basketball.

Nobody would have blamed Parrom had he decided to quit–except Coach Miller, who was not going to let him off easy. In fact, Miller told Parrom personally that he was not going to let Parrom redshirt. Miller and Parrom worked hard together, and Parrom shocked the Arizona faithful by returning to the action much sooner than anyone had ever imagined. The embracing hug that Coach Miller had with Kevin as he came off the court in the first game of his return qualifies as the Image of the Year.

3. Wildcats Win the Pac-10 Title.

When fans remember the Pac-10 basketball season, they will mostly remember the eight game winning streak that featured a thrilling triple overtime victory against Cal and “the block” against Washington in front of a rocking, all-white McKale crowd. It was this streak and the tremendous play of Derrick Williams that would lead the Wildcats to their first Pac-10 title since 2005 and their first title under the Sean Miller era.

2. Arizona Ruins the Devils’ Season

When the football season has gone about as badly as it can go, there is always one thing that can make it all better: Beating ASU.

This year, Arizona not only beat ASU but completely destroyed their season. Going into the game with a winning record and the Pac-12 southern division championship on the line, Arizona State had a lot to lose. Arizona, on the other hand, had nothing to lose and played that way. Down 21-17 going into the second half, Arizona’s defense was the definition of bend-but-don’t-break, allowing tons of yardage but only giving up six points. In the fourth quarter and trailing 27-24, the Arizona defense can arguably be awarded the play of the game when they gave Arizona the ball back by stopping a driving ASU offense on fourth and short. A few plays later, Juron Criner would turn a simple screen pass from Bryson Beirne (Foles had injured himself two plays earlier) into an acrobatic display of tremendous balance and 23 yards for the winning touchdown. ASU would have the final chance to win the game, but the Arizona defense came through again, batting down a pass in the endzone as the final seconds faded away into the silent and stunned ASU crowd.

Shortly after, Arizona State’s division championship hopes would completely collapse, their coach would be fired, their coaching search would become something Arizona fans could laugh hysterically at and their bowl game against Boise State would become an utter embarrassment.

1. Derrick Williams Leads Arizona to the Elite Eight.

To be fair, each of Arizona’s wins in the NCAA basketball tournament (Memphis, Texas, Duke) could have been a separate moment on this list. However, when you combine the excitement of Derrick Williams’s block against Josh Pastner’s Memphis, the pandemonium that ensued in the final minutes against Texas (maybe the most controversial five second call in the history of the NCAA), and the destruction of Duke in a game that looked as good as lost at the end of the first half, there is no doubt that Arizona’s performance–one that put the Wildcats’ basketball program back into the national spotlight–during March Madness is the top Wildcat Moment of the Year. With a combination of great coaching, talent, luck, urgency and all out desire, Arizona’s surprising run in the tournament sent a message to the nation and to its fans: We’re back.