Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.
March may still be well in the distance and conference play just beginning, but the Arizona Wildcats have already crafted a season’s worth of last-minute escapes. Early December saw Mark Lyons take over a game that was tied with seven minutes to play at Clemson. The Xavier transfer would provide more heroics a week later, as his runner with seven seconds left shocked Florida and erased a six-point, final-minute deficit. Then, in a back-and-forth Christmas Day affair, Nick Johnson delivered Wildcat fans a final Christmas gift when he blocked Chase Tapley’s layup attempt with only ticks remaining, giving Arizona the Diamond Head Classic title in yet another wild final minute.
But none of this drama compared to the scene at the McHale Center on Thursday night. Not only did Arizona need to erase a nine-point deficit in the final two minutes to ultimately win this one, but they also needed to find a bit of good fortune when referees went to the monitor to review Sabatino Chen’s apparent buzzer-beating winner. True to form, the Wildcats ended up on the right side of the bang-bang call, and then (in equally appropriate fashion), Lyons and company displayed the killer instinct that has become a trademark of this unbeaten run.
As is usually the case with teams using “imaginative” methods of winning, skeptics will point out that relying on late heroics is not a recipe for sustainability. On the other side of the ledger, Wildcat fans will rightly point out that their team is 13-0 and one of just four unbeaten teams left in the country, so they have to be doing something right. The question then becomes, how good is this Arizona team? The answer, also per usual, falls somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. Ultimately however, this is a talented, veteran Wildcat team, and the dramatic nature of their first 13 games should not be held against them.