A Wildcat in the Rebels’ Den

illustration by Jon Estrada

Illustration by Jon Estrada

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!