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Road sweep has Arizona men’s basketball—and its fanbase—on the upswing

arizona-wildcats-mens-basketball-colorado-utah-column-commentary-pac12-ncaa-tournament-tommy-lloyd Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Shoutout to my bosses (or at least whoever runs the @AZDesertSwarm Twitter account) for being sarcastically accurate with a post after Arizona finally put away Utah on Thursday night:

Indeed, an Arizona team that had struggled to win away from home was going to make a statement in Boulder. Lose, and it’s the same old Wildcats who don’t have what it takes to make a deep NCAA Tournament run. Win and the ‘Cats are back, baby, ready to take on all challengers on their way to Glendale.

Roller coasters are fun.

Fortunately for Arizona the latter occurred, or at least the part about them getting a win. It was a rather dominant performance, actually, against a team that had not lost at home this season, had not lost to Arizona at home since 2015 and had the luxury of not having played a triple overtime game just a couple nights earlier.

The 99-79 win, in which Arizona led for all but 2:29 was as dominant a performance as we’ve seen in a long time on a night where less than their best would have been somewhat understandable.

“Our guys are competitors and they’re winners and we knew that everyone was trying to make excuses for us and we don’t make any excuses,” head coach Tommy Lloyd said after the win. “We knew full well that we could come here and lose to a good Colorado team today and it had nothing to do with three overtimes on Thursday.”

Very good.

So of course this means whatever lull the team was in has ceased and Tommy Lloyd’s squad is well on its way to winning the Pac-12, the Pac-12 Tournament and then making it back to the Final Four. Right?

It’s why Arizona shot up to fifth in the AP Poll. Actually perhaps the voters are a bit behind, as the Cats are ranked No. 4 ranking in KenPom. Then again, it’s possible even that undersells the team’s greatness, as it is third in NET.

Better get started on the banner and planning the parade route.

Or don’t, actually, because there is still a lot of basketball left to be played.

This is not to say Arizona is not capable of making the Final Four or winning a national championship, because they most certainly are. The team has size, athleticism, shooting and a little bit of depth. Further, unlike the last couple of seasons this team also has plenty of big game and tournament experience.

All of this was true before the mountain sweep.

Prior to then though there was a belief, warranted or not, that the team was not capable of winning away from home. Nevermind that it knocked off Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Michigan State in Palm Desert and Alabama in Phoenix. The neutral-site losses to Purdue, who is currently ranked No. 2 in the country, as well as FAU (in Las Vegas and by one in double overtime) and then defeats at Stanford, Washington State and Oregon State just mean more.

Ignoring the fact that three of the team’s five losses are by a combined seven points, as well as that many of the country’s best teams have dropped road conference games, it’s clear that for a team like Arizona losses carry more weight with regards to perception than wins.

Wins are supposed to happen. Losses mean you aren’t actually as good as we thought.

Reality lies somewhere in between, of course. While the Wildcats are more talented than most of their opponents, winning is rarely — if ever — easy, and the college basketball landscape has allowed for quite a bit of parity. Last year’s national champs, UConn, lost eight games while the team it beat in the title game, San Diego State, lost six prior to running into the Huskies.

The year before champion Kansas dropped six games, while runner-up North Carolina was beaten nine times before falling to the Jayhawks.

Now you could argue the Pac-12 isn’t as good as the Big East, Big 12 or ACC in hoops, and you’d probably be right. But this season outside of UConn, Purdue and Houston, who have two, two and three losses so far, the rest of the top 10 sees a lot of fives and even a six in the loss column.

Arizona is in that group, and by the time the season is over it may feature even more 5- and 6-loss teams.

One of them may even cut down the nets in April. Most, of course, will not.

That’s what makes wins like the two Arizona got over the weekend, or really any this season, so important. While the focus is on what happens in the postseason, these regular season victories allow for fans to once again enjoy the ride.

Arizona no longer has to prove (again) it can win in a hostile environment before being taken seriously as a contender.

Through 24 games of one of the tougher schedules in the country, the Wildcats have proven to be capable of playing at an incredibly high level. They have also, as all teams do, shown they are capable of losing to pretty much anyone.

Riding a 5-game winning streak with three of them coming away from home, whatever concerns one had about the Wildcats have been washed away and replaced by fresh optimism that the season is back on track and the Final Four drought could end within a couple months.

Until the next loss, anyway.