Time: 7:00 p.m. MST
I probably overuse analogies, but the Arizona Wildcats are having a roller coaster of a season. But I can tell you a specific roller coaster that Sean Miller's team went on last year and could very well be going on again.
The main attraction at the world-famous Cedar Point amusement park in Ohio is the Top Thrill Dragster, a simple enough roller coaster to understand.
It only lasts 17 seconds, hits 120 mph quickly enough to go straight up in the air just enough to hang there, scare the crap out of everyone aboard, then come crashing back down with a little help from gravity as quickly as it arrived to its peak.
With the Colorado Buffaloes coming into McKale Center for a nationally televised contest at 7 p.m. tomorrow night, a win might be the gravity pulling at the Wildcats at the end of the apex, just enough to accelerate with rapid momentum all the way to the finish line and into the NCAA tournament.After the Bay Area sweep that brought Sean Miller's team back into the Pac-12 discussion, the Colorado win could put the Wildcats (16-8, 7-4) in strong contention to climb back into the top three or four teams in the conference, a crucial place to be. A top-3 finish could lead to a tournament invite, and even a top-4 placement going into the conference tourney puts Arizona in a solid spot as any to win the tournament.
The Wildcats, as we saw in the first meeting of these two squads, match up well with the Buffaloes (16-7, 8-3) -- it's a clash of undersized but defensive-minded teams looking to keep pace with Washington and California.
The similarities between UA and CU were obvious in Boulder, Colo., where the Buffs pulled out a 64-63 victory in their win.
Don't expect this one to look the same, though. In that one, Colorado big man Andre Roberson, the team's leading rebounder, struggled with foul trouble and went 0-for-8 from the field. Arizona's bench only scored six points, all coming from now-injured forward Kevin Parrom. And Arizona's usually stellar perimeter defense struggled to contain Carlon Brown and Spencer Dinwiddie, who were the top two scorers for CU with 19 and 13 respectively.
"lon Brown, he really had his way with our defense, and so did their freshman, (Spencer) Dinwiddie," Johnson said. "So I know me and (Kyle) Fogg personally want to see them again. That's definitely big."
The big-game atmosphere at McKale surely goes in Arizona's favor, but don't think the Buffs will come out flat on ESPN. A loss would put them in a tie with Arizona in Pac-12 play, and with Oregon at 7-4 and Stanford and UCLA not far behind at 6-5 in league play, there's still much to be decided in the standings.
They've got everything to lose, and the opportunity to sweep the Wildcats on the season could bring out the Buffs' best, coach Tad Boyle told the Daily Camera in Boulder.
"You can't ask for anything more than playing a quality opponent on national TV," Boyle said. "That's where you want to be in February."
Like last season, Arizona got rolling at this point in the year, and aside from a flameout during a trip to the Los Angeles area schools, it appears February is when Miller's teams begin to show a cohesion that we saw the past two games.
Should the Wildcats win, they'll be shooting straight down that roller coaster track.
And if they lose?
They might not have enough push left in them, getting stuck atop a transition season and without enough to make it to the finish line that is the NCAA tourney.