After advancing to the Sweet 16 in this year’s NCAA Tournament, the UA men’s basketball team is just two wins away from doing something it hasn’t done in 13 years: move on to the Final Four.
But in order to do so, the Wildcats will have to win on a court that has become a house of horrors for the program.
On Thursday night, the Wildcats will take the court at the Honda Center in Anaheim, where they have lost their fair share of crucial tournament games in the last two decades. However, former UA guard Kevin Parrom (2009-13) believes that the Anaheim curse will soon be broken by one of the most talented and unselfish teams to ever play in Tucson.
“Guys don’t care about stats. Guys don’t care about who’s scoring the most points. Guys don’t care who’s getting the most media attention,” said Parrom, who currently plays for Rio Grande Valley in the NBA’s Developmental League. “Coach (Sean Miller) makes sure every year that he gets a group of guys that gel together and guys that don’t have egos, and it’s working right now.
“It’s been a fun thing to watch. I’m proud to watch them. I’m proud to see them win, and hopefully they continue to win.”
For decades, the Wildcats have been considered one of the nation’s premier men’s basketball programs, partly because of the their four Final Four appearances, including a national championship in 1997.
But the Cats have also had plenty of missed opportunities. On four occasions dating back to 1998, they’ve been one win away from advancing to the Final Four. Three of those losses took place in Anaheim:
-In 1998, the defending national champion Wildcats were blown out by No. 3 seed Utah, 76-51.
-In 2003, top-seeded UA blew a 10-point second-half lead in a 78-75 loss to No. 2 seed Kansas.
-And in 2011, after an improbable upset of top-seeded Duke in the Sweet 16, the fifth-seeded Wildcats lost 65-63 to No. 3 seed Connecticut. In that game, then-senior forward Jamelle Horne missed an open last-second 3-pointer that would’ve punched UA’s Final Four ticket.
“It probably haunts Jamelle to this day,” Parrom said of Horne’s miss. “But it was a good look and it didn’t go in, unfortunately. It was a little short.”
The Wildcats, who were ranked No. 1 for eight consecutive weeks earlier this season, are one of the favorites to win the 2014 national championship, even without starting sophomore forward Brandon Ashley, who suffered a season-ending foot injury two months ago.
But if they want to reverse the Anaheim curse and return to the Final Four for the first time since 2001, they’ll have to get past a pair of tough opponents: the No. 4 seed San Diego State Aztecs on Thursday night, and either No. 2 seed Wisconsin or No. 6 seed Baylor on Saturday.
Behind the leadership of Pac-12 Player of the Year Nick Johnson, freshmen phenoms Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and talented point guard T.J. McConnell, Parrom believes the Cats will get it done.
“It’s going to be two great West Coast programs going at each other,” he said of Thursday’s game against SDSU. “I think it’ll be a great game, but it’s just going to come down to who wants it more, you know? That’s basically what it’s going to come down to because San Diego State is in the Sweet 16 for a reason.
“But I think with Nick, Aaron, Rondae – those guys playing together and leading the way – I think we should come out on top.”
Regardless of what happens in the next several days, Parrom said the Wildcats will retain their status as an elite basketball program. But he said this year’s team has the best chance of any in years to finally get over the Anaheim hump and, more importantly, get that elusive fifth Final Four banner.
“UA will always be a top-10 program in college basketball just because of what (former head coach) Lute Olson has done for the program and what Coach Miller’s continuing to do for the program,” he said. “We’ll always be elite. We’ll always be considered up there with the Dukes and North Carolinas, those caliber teams.
“I think before I got there, Arizona was considered a top-10 program in college basketball. I think this team this year continued the tradition, and I feel very strongly that they’ll get to the Final Four.”