TUCSON, AZ – This Christmas, let's take a quick look back on 2023 and all of the wonderful gifts that the Arizona Wildcats have given their fans.
Merry Christmas, Wildcat nation! One of the biggest gifts of the year (for me, at least) has been the vast all-around improvements across University of Arizona Athletics as a whole. Between football, men's basketball, baseball, and much more, the Wildcats have delivered in Santa-esque style this year. These gifts are in no particular order, but some have come in much bigger packages than others.
Arizona Football beats No. 20 UCLA on Homecoming, qualifies for bowl game (Saturday, Nov. 4)
Thanks in large part to a standout defensive effort and a 300-yard day from redshirt freshman quarterback Noah Fifita, Arizona Football sent No. 20 UCLA back to Southern California with its tail tucked between its legs and secured bowl eligibility for the first time in six years.
Fifita, in just his fifth start as the new face of the Arizona football offense, demonstrated an ability to deliver quick-hitting passes and showcased a connection with high school teammate Tetairoa McMillan. Fifita completed 25 of his 32 pass attempts (78%) and, despite throwing an interception, threw touchdown passes to all three of his top wideouts.
The defense stepped to the plate as well, holding UCLA to just 2-for-5 on trips to the red zone. The declawed Bruins pulled together just 271 yards of total offense, which ended as the second-lowest total of the season. The Wildcats pulled off their third consecutive win over a ranked opponent to reach win number six on the season.
As the scoreboard read "0:00" and 27-10 in Arizona's favor, the Homecoming crowd was already rushing the field for a second straight week because they all knew that the Wildcats would once again taste postseason football. After winning all of their remaining games, No. 14 Arizona drew one of the better non-New Year's Six games in the Alamo Bowl to play the No. 12 University of Oklahoma this upcoming Thursday, Dec. 28, in the Alamo Dome in San Antonio.
No. 12 Arizona Basketball topples No. 2 Duke at Cameron Indoor (Friday, Nov. 10)
In just the second game of the regular season, No. 12 Arizona Basketball faced an immense task: take down No. 2 Duke in Durham, NC, in front of the Cameron Crazies. With legendary former Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski sitting on the sidelines, the Wildcats stunned the crowd with a statement 78-73 win on Friday, Nov. 10.
First-year Wildcat Caleb Love spent his first three seasons with UNC, Duke's biggest rival, where he became notorious as a Duke killer. After nailing four free throws in 18 seconds, Love extended his record to 3-1 at Cameron Indoor and social media affectionately nicknamed the arena "Caleb Indoor Stadium".
The other Arizona players gave Duke a hard time as well, given that all five starters finished with double-digit points. Senior transfer Keshad Johnson cemented himself as a central part of the Wildcats' gameplan and finished the game with a team-leading 14 points. Freshman KJ Lewis finished the night with just 6 points off the bench, but 2 of them came in dramatic fashion. In an exclamation mark for the ages, he hammered a bounce pass from Love through the hoop with just under half a second remaining.
With the Wildcats now boasting a win over a blue-blood and top-three team in the country, Arizona vaulted up nine spots from No. 12 to No. 3, and eventually reached as high as the No. 1 spot. The Wildcats got there largely due to this statement win to start the season.
Arizona Baseball shocks No. 2 Tennessee in season opener (Friday, Feb. 17)
At the beginning of the 2023 season, Arizona Baseball was invited to play in the MLB Desert Invitational in Scottsdale, Arizona. Of the six teams that were invited, the Wildcats drew the toughest opening game matchup: No. 2 Tennessee who finished 2022 with single-digit losses and a 57-9 record. Arizona, who was coming off a solid 39-25 season, had underperformed in the 2022 NCAA Coral Gables Regional in June 2022 and was looking to start the season off with a bang.
The Volunteers took to the plate first and scored on a sacrifice fly from Zane Denton to bring Christian Moore home. The Wildcats immediately responded in the bottom of the first with a sac-fly of their own that brought Nik McClaughry in. In the second inning, Arizona's Tony Bullard launched a line-drive home run to left field (with MLB star Juan Soto on the mic) on just the third pitch he saw. This put the Wildcats ahead 2-1 and placed them in the driver's seat for the rest of the game.
Chase Dollander, a future first-round pick in the 2023 MLB Draft by the Colorado Rockies, allowed three hits, 2 runs, and hit a batter in just 4.2 innings of work. An eighth-inning RBI double that brought Kiko Romero home sealed the 3-1 upset for the Wildcats.
No. 16 Arizona Football drops the hammer on ASU in Territorial Cup (Saturday, Nov. 25)
In the last week of the season, No. 16 Arizona Football was licking its chops ahead of rivalry week. The Wildcats had ASU on the schedule, and the Sun Devils looked to be easy prey at 3-8. With all the fury of the 2021 season's 70-7 embarrassment still lingering with many of Arizona's players, the Wildcats thrashed the Sun Devils 59-23.
In a perfect end to what felt like a Cinderella season, Fifita broke the single-game school record for passing yards (527) and posted his second five-touchdown day of the season. He posted his highest passer rating (216.5) and quarterback rating (98.2) of the season and kept McMillan — his favorite target — extremely well-fed.
McMillan's 266-yard showing is the second-best performance in a single game by a pass catcher (regardless of position) in Arizona program history. With 11 catches, McMillan averaged a mind-boggling 24.2 yards per reception. His connection with Fifita, which dates back to their days at Servite High School, was on full display, and those two are the biggest reason that Arizona was able to reach 9-3 on the season.