The basketball gods have been quite favorable to Sean Miller during his ongoing three-and-a-half year tenure in Tucson.
Thursday’s controversial win over Colorado to tip off the Pac-12 season—which saw an apparent Buffaloes game-winner at the buzzer wiped away upon further review—offered another curious tale of what can only be chalked up to divine intervention. That’s become a common theme in Arizona from which Miller and his Cats have benefitted.
During Arizona’s Elite Eight run in 2011, Miller’s assembly felt some positive karma in successive games to begin its run. In the team’s opening round bout against Memphis, Derrick Williams—who coincidentally almost committed to Memphis—got away with slapping the arm of Wesley Witherspoon as he swatted Witherspoon’s game-tying attempt.
Two days later in the round of 32 against Texas, the Longhorns were whistled for a seldom-called five-second violation while trying to in-bound the ball up two with 13 seconds to play. On the next sequence, Williams put on his superman cape again and skied for an acrobatic three-point play the hard way to propel the Cats into the Sweet 16.
Of course, it may be most convenient to remember how Arizona’s run came to an end that tournament: a two-point loss to eventual champion Connecticut, capped off by a series of open 3-pointers the Cats missed on their last possession. The breaks uncharacteristically went the other way on that night.
You might also remember Arizona blitzing through top-seeded Duke in the Sweet 16 with a timeless offensive outburst in the second half. Everything that went up, went in for Miller’s bunch in that game.
If for no other reason but dumb luck—it can’t be that simple—the Cardiac Cats have become virtually impregnable in late game situations. Florida and San Diego State know. Both Top 25 teams had defeat snatched from the jaws of victory by Arizona in the non-conference.
Whatever the source, there’s a palpable mystique hovering over the Tucson hoops scene. Ever since Miller has taken over the reins, the bounces, breaks and bang-bang plays have, for the most part, gone the Wildcats’ way.
A fair warning to tournament hopefuls: Arizona is the type of team you least want to face, especially if March 2011 was any indication.