Posted by MATT JONES
Thursday was a good day to be an Arizona Wildcat fan. After a few years of slow decline in which the Wildcats slipped behind not only fellow Pac 10 power UCLA, but also plebeian programs like Washington, Arizona announced to the basketball world on Thursday that it was back. With two important victories, Sean Miller's program made clear that Arizona basketball is ready to once again own basketball on the West Coast.
First came the commitment of 2011 Top 50 prospect Angelo Chol. The forward prospect is a nice player that any program would love to add, but what made the decision more important than usual is the way in which Sean Miller was able to bring Choi into the fold. Every year, a couple of players wait until late in the game to make their decision and then when power programs see openings in their roster, these late deciders become the basketball equivalent of the pair of 6s hanging out at the bar at closing time. Such was the case with Choi, who initially was recruited by Arizona and second-tier BCS schools like Alabama. Then as powerhouses like Kansas and North Carolina realized they would have an open slot, Choi became a priority, making his commitment a much tougher prize to win.
But that didn't faze Sean Miller. Determined to take Arizona back to its rightful place as the king of West Coast recruiting, Miller kept after Choi and was able to land the commitment of the hottest prospect left in the 2011 class. Choi will certainly help Arizona on the court immediately, but his greatest legacy may actually take place off the hardwood. For Choi represents a recruiting battle won against programs that rarely lose such competitions. When North Carolina, Kansas, Duke or Kentucky want a player, they are usually nabbed and only rarely will they fall to a school outside of the chosen group. Arizona used to be in the West Coast representative in that recruiting royalty class, but had fallen out in recent years, replaced on the West Coast by UCLA. Now with Choi's commitment, Sean Miller has served notice that Arizona is back in the fight, with no player outside of its reach.
The same type of success is now also present on the court as tonight Arizona continued its hot streak with its 7th straight victory. The Wildcats took out Washington State 79-70 in Tucson and set up a three game stretch upcoming that will determine the Pac 10 championship. Led by Derrick Williams's 26 points, Arizona held off a late Cougar rally to get its 14th straight home win and remain one game ahead in the top-heavy Pac 10.
The win allows Arizona to focus on its three game run that is likely the most important of the Sean Miller era. The Wildcats host Washington on Saturday before hitting the road to play USC and UCLA. The Huskies and Bruins are both within striking distance in the conference race and a sweep over the twosome would likely mean a regular season conference title. But maybe even more importantly, those two wins could re-establish Arizona's dominance on the court going forward in both the Pac 10 and over the West Coast more generally. If Arizona can win a Pac 10 title only one year after missing the NCAA Tournament, then conference rivals should be very nervous about what is to happen when all of his recruits end up in Tuscon in the coming seasons.
So in one day, Sean Miller defeats two of the four best recruiting powers in America for a Top 50 recruit and sets up a scenario in which Arizona could over the next 10 days win the Pac 10 title, and reclaim superiority of the left side of the college basketball nation. For Arizona fans, I would guess it is safe to say, Thursday was a good day.