McKale Center and Arizona Stadium are just a block away from one another on Enke Drive, yet they are worlds apart. One month this autumn can start a bridge in that gap.
McKale lives in basketball lore, the home to a 71-game win streak between 1987 and 1992 that established it as one of the most feared venues in the nation. There’s a reason Mike Krzyzewski hasn’t been back since George H.W. Bush was president. And, there’s a reason ESPN announced this week that it would host its College Basketball Gameday on Lute and Bobbi Olson Court come January.
Indeed, McKale is the sexy locale on the UA sporting scene – the Kim Kardashian of the family, if you will. Arizona Stadium is the Khloe: larger, sometimes mocked and viewed with less awe. Yet, there is beauty to be seen in both and the football Wildcats need to flash some of that in a treacherous early stretch.Pundits and pollsters predicate offseason naysaying of the 2011 Wildcats based on their 2010 finish – and justifiably. Four of the five teams that handed UA losses in a winless November-December dot the new season’s opening slate.
Time has passed since the skid, coincidentally yet fittingly in the time of year when football and basketball seasons overlap. September is all about football; no hoops to hog the spotlight. Arizona Stadium will sport a much-needed cosmetic overhaul and take center stage solo when Stanford and Oregon take to Tucson.
Exploits within that stone structure are not as celebrated as those down the road, but history suggests the Pac frontrunning Cardinal and Ducks will get a handful. Traditional powerhouses and ranked foes have fallen with surprising regularity in Arizona Stadium.
Precedent goes back as far as 1980, when UA handed second ranked UCLA a 23-17 defeat. The win bore striking similarities to another upset of a No. 2 squad nearly 30 years later.
The 1980 team under head coach Larry Smith finished 5-6, and the UCLA win was its pinnacle. The Wildcats were in the first step of a rebuilding phase that would result in five consecutive winning seasons. In 2007, Mike Stoops’ Wildcats finished below .500 but achieved a notable high of knocking off No. 2 Oregon, 34-24. UA has surpassed .500 each of the subsequent three seasons.
Every season in the Stoops era has had at least one of those games with an atmosphere akin to McKale’s. In 2004 there was the Territorial Cup defeat of a ranked Arizona State. The following season featured the Homecoming rout of No. 5 UCLA, which got a repeat performance with Cal playing the role of ranked patsy in 2006. The 2008 regular season ended with UA blowing out and denying a bowl bid to ASU, while a raucous rally cut down Stanford in 2009.
Even last year for all its disappointments, among them a sub-.500 home record, had the Iowa win. All those noteworthy wins are as disarming as catching Khloe on a gossip rag cover while in line at the grocery store. One can see either and say to himself, "You know what? Maybe there’s something going on there."
McKale is always going to be the more celebrated spot on the block, but in September expect to see the Stadium show off what its got.