"I love the fact that one loss is like the world ended! I love that because I'm a winner. And winning is the only option."
This quote was taken from what Rawle Alkins wrote in his personal blog in USA Today, where he talked about being on campus when the Arizona Wildcats lost to the Oregon Ducks in McKale Center, which broke Arizona's 49-game home winning streak.
This idea of winning being the only option isn't only true for him, but it is also true about the majority of Arizona Wildcat fans.
There is a reason that Arizona's slogan is "This is Arizona" and that is because Arizona is an elite program, and is expected to be a national contender year-in and year-out. Part of being an Arizona fan is expecting to win and after seeing two elite teams the past two seasons, many have viewed this team as a let down. The reason being is at Arizona we expect Pac-12 titles. We expect to see our teams not lose at home, and we expect to go into hostile arenas and win. We just haven't seen that this year (yes we've been spoiled the past couple years).
As a result, this year's team has many fans worried that Arizona won't be able to contend in March when it matters. This version of Arizona basketball has seven losses and have struggled on the road, which has made McKale Center a haven for the Wildcats, a place that has only seen one Arizona loss in three years, which is the loss against Oregon in late January. This season, McKale Center has saved Arizona's record, where they went 17-1. However, Arizona has had trouble winning away from McKale. They went 5-5 in true road games and 4-5 in Pac-12 road games.
Obviously, from now on Arizona will not have the luxury of playing at home. So, for Arizona to make a deep postseason run, the Wildcats must be able to do something that they haven't done well all season, and that is win away from McKale. Looking at it statistically, Arizona has been carried by their offensive firepower. The Wildcats are currently averaging just under 81 points per game, which ranks them 17th nationally and 1st in the Pac-12.
The issue with relying on the offense is that it's inconsistent. One night someone can't buy a bucket (Gabe York on the mountain road trip), and then make everything they look at another night (York against Stanford). Although they are averaging just under 81 points a game, the 'Cats are only averaging 76 points in games away from McKale and that includes the 101 points against USC in the four overtime loss (includes the neutral floor games in the Wooden Legacy Tournament). This is something that needs to change if Arizona wants to make a deep run. They must be able to be consistent enough to outscore the other team, or they need to start clicking defensively.
One of the staples of Arizona basketball under Sean Miller has been defense. The past two years Arizona ranked 15th and 6th nationally in opponents points per game, which is a long way from this year's 72nd ranking. Now the thing that Arizona has going for them is that they have only played a handful of games at full strength. Kaleb Tarczewski was out, then Kadeem Allen was out, then Allonzo Trier was out, and Elliott Pitts has stepped away from the team. The positive thing about this is that each player has learned to play different roles throughout the season, and that will benefit Arizona in the tournament.
If Arizona wants to get to that elusive Final Four, they must find ways to win when they aren't making shots. It might be ugly, but in March, a win is a win.
For Arizona fans that are not happy with this year's team and are searching for some hope for March, Arizona's regular season record in 1997 was 19-9. This year Arizona is 25-7, and in a year where there is no dominant team in all of college basketball, anything can happen.