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Arizona men’s basketball is worth the wait

Arizona Wildcats v Washington Huskies Photo by Rebecca Noble/Getty Images

Tommy Lloyd’s team is an absolute joy to watch play basketball.

The ultra-talented squad plays free and loose, while also in control. They share the basketball and get good shots, while offering high-flying dunks, 3-point barrages and a wall of sorts at the rim.

Their Top 10 ranking is justified, and if not for starting the season unranked they’d likely be sitting in the top five. Virtually every metric points to them being elite and, what’s even more delicious about it all, there is plenty of room for them to improve as they get more comfortable with each other and Lloyd’s system.

The excitement over what they have done, are doing and could do is one of the many reasons why it’s been so upsetting to see their games not happen.

The matchups at UCLA and USC would have been intense, while the game at Arizona State would have been, hopefully, what it normally is.

The surge in covid cases due to the Omicron variant has thrown the country into a bit of turmoil, with the sports world being impacted in a considerable way. Players have missed games while games themselves have been postponed. Now we’re seeing certain cities and venues reinstate mask policies and, in some cases, limit fan attendance.

It’s unfortunate.

In Arizona’s case, the program has so far been able to avoid postponement due to its own Covid issues. That was the case last season, too, and it is commendable.

This has led to many fans of the program to in a way thumb their nose at foes who cannot say the same, and now — as the UCLA game for a moment looked like it could be rescheduled only to have it not — there is a belief that the Bruins were actually afraid to play Arizona.

That’s ridiculous, and insinuating as much is not a great look for a fan base that finally has reason to feel good again.

As that story developed more came out, how in the early stages after UCLA returned to practice they did not have enough healthy players for the game to be played on its original date. That makes sense, because even while vaccinated COVID can do a number on someone and even athletes in peak physical condition may need some time to safely get back into things.

However, the story took a turn when the Bruins did not fit the Wildcats into their schedule this past week when the former suddenly had some free time. However, we have since learned the Pac-12 itself had final say in the matter, and if nothing else they likely didn’t push UCLA to make the matchup happen.

UCLA would not be at its best, the atmosphere sans fans would be lacking and the hype that should surround a conference game between top 10 teams would be virtually non-existent.

An Arizona win would have been cheapened due to the Bruins’ circumstances while a Bruins win would have looked really bad for the Wildcats. Regardless of the result, the Pac-12 would lose and be honest, if the roles were reversed you’d feel differently about whether this game should be played or not.

So anyway, the game didn’t happen. Rescheduling it along with every other missed game will be a challenge for the conference, though odds are good more dates will suddenly open up in the near future.

In the meantime, Arizona has had trouble finding a game to play, and is slated to next take the court Jan. 13 in Tucson against Colorado. If that game is played, it will be Arizona’s second since it lost to Tennessee on Dec. 22.

There’s no need to struggle with the math, but suffice to say that’s not many games over a span of a few weeks.

Will that kind of layoff, will Arizona be at its best? That’s a fair question, and credit to the coaching staff if it keeps the team sharp through all this. Credit the players, too, for staying focused.

One thing you could, but maybe shouldn’t, credit them for is staying healthy. While there are of course plenty of things one can do to minimize their risk of contracting covid, both the statistics and science indicate it’s easier said than done, especially if you are among the public in any capacity.

Hopefully Arizona’s players and staff continue to avoid it.

Should they not, however, and ultimately join the myriad other programs that have had to go on pause for an extended period of time, we can only hope the Cats are able to get through it fine and back on the court in a timely manner. As the season nears its end there will be fewer days in which a game could be made up, but even still the expectation would be they are afforded the same level of patience the Pac-12 has provided other schools.

There is precedent, after all, to not put the teams in situations that would be perceived as competitively unfair.

All of that is hypothetical, and in a perfect world the pandemic will once again simmer down and the Wildcats will never have to ask if the Pac-12 will treat them the same as it has treated its conference rivals.

Yet, this is an imperfect world, and the one sports is trying to play through has been exceptionally complicated. Arizona has navigated it well thus far, and in the process has ascended to the top of the college basketball pecking order.

Other programs have been less fortunate, in many cases through no fault of their own. The Wildcats and their fans should be understanding, just as they’d hope the Pac-12 would be if the shoe was on the other foot.

Here’s hoping it never is.