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History on Arizona’s side going into first defense of No. 1 ranking

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It’s been almost 10 years since Arizona was the No. 1 team in the country. Wildcat fans painfully remember how that 8-week run ended, but how it began probably isn’t as memorable.

It was a blowout win over New Mexico State, running the UA’s record to 10-0 in what would be a 21-0 start. It was also the 10th time in as many tries that Arizona has won immediately after rising to No. 1 in the country.

The 11th chance to open defense of the top ranking comes Saturday when Wisconsin comes to McKale Center. The 23rd-ranked Badgers (7-2) are just the second ranked opponent Arizona has faced to start at run at No. 1, the other coming in 2002 when it hosted No. 19 Western Kentucky and won by 39.

Arizona’s average margin of victory in the first game as No. 1 is 31.4 points, with all but one decided by double-digits. In fact, in their 52 wins as the No. 1 team (against 10 losses) the Wildcats have won by 10 or more 37 times.

Tommy Lloyd isn’t expecting anything close to a walkover from Wisconsin, which has won six in a row including a victory over then-No. 3 Marquette and Tuesday’s Big Ten Conference opener at Michigan State.

“I think that we’re getting prepared to play the best team we’ve played so far this season,” Lloyd said. “They’re on a roll right now. They beat really good teams lately, and they beat them handily. They went in and punched Michigan State in the mouth. We know Michigan State is a tough, physical team.”

This will be Lloyd’s first game as head coach of a No. 1 team, but he’s got plenty of experience being on the bench for a squad ranked first. Gonzaga played 59 games as the top-ranked team during Lloyd’s tenure as assistant, winning 54, and like Arizona never lost that first game.

After last weekend’s win over Colgate, when it seemed evident the UA was going to climb to No. 1, Lloyd spoke openly about embracing that distinction and not shying away from it. He also discussed it on the first weekly radio show on Monday, but around the team it’s been a non-issue.

“I haven’t mentioned it once,” he said. “You guys can do that. We’ve talked about getting better. We don’t have a banner hanging up in the locker room.”

This will be the eighth meeting between Arizona and Wisconsin, with the Badgers holding a 5-2 edge including three straight wins. The last two of those were the back-to-back Elite Eight losses in 2014 and 2015, and in the 2000 NCAA Tournament the UA was the No. 1 seed in the West Region when it lost to UW.

Even Caleb Love has a score to settle with the Badgers, who whooped his North Carolina team 85-62 in the first round in 2021.

Lloyd said the Arizona/Wisconsin history has been brought to his attention many times, and he understands how it can get the juices flowing within the fanbase. But that’s where the story ends, in his opinion.

“I know there’s a significance recently that a lot of Arizona fans feel passionate,” he said. “It has zero has impact on this game.”

Same goes for Arizona’s past performances as the No. 1 team, but at least those have been more positive as a whole.