I’m sad when UNLV loses to UNR. I’m sad when UNLV loses to San Diego State. And although I’m happy to hear that UNLV is still well-regarded in the Mountain West Conference, a little voice in my head always adds, “But who the hell cares about the Mountain West?”
Actually, it’s not a little voice. It’s a loud, red-and-blue-face-painted Arizona Wildcats fan, and it’s usually accompanied by the “Bear Down, Arizona” fight song and a mental slideshow of highlights from Arizona’s 25 straight years qualifying for the NCAA men’s tournament, 1985-2009. I’m talking from Sean Elliott (1989) and Anthony Cook (1989) all the way to Jarryd Bayless (2008) and Jordan Hill (2009)—all of whom were NBA first-round picks.
But even though I’m a U of A grad, I’m also a longtime Las Vegan. So I tried to summon excitement this season when, say, UNLV beat Air Force—but, Air Force?!
I can’t help but see images of Arizona’s 72-66 victory this season over No. 6 Duke. And, well, images of Arizona’s 63-58 win over UNLV in December.
Still, I tell myself, the Rebels had Tark! Then, a glowing image of the dapper Lute Olson fills my mind. But the Rebels crushed Duke in 1990 for the NCAA title! And, then, a vision appears of Arizona’s unprecedented run over three No. 1 seeds in the 1997 tournament, including the title-clinching overtime victory over Kentucky.
So as the conference tournaments for both the Mountain West and the Pac-12 are decided in Las Vegas this week—Arizona (28-3, 15-3) enters as the top seed in the Pac-12, while UNLV (19-12, 10-8) is No. 4 in the Mountain West—I’m trying to balance my loyalties. But somehow I know that this month, my heart, and my money, will be with the Wildcats. Bear Down, Arizona!