Sellout crowd prepares for Pac-10 battle
Seeing a line for tickets outside McKale Center is not an uncommon sight.
But since basketball season hasn't even started, it might have surprised a few people.
Monday saw 5,839 of the 11,500 remaining tickets for Saturday's game between Arizona and UCLA get gobbled up, a single-day record for UA.
With the No. 3-ranked team coming to town many of the Wildcats are grateful for the sudden surge in support.
"It's unbelievable," said junior quarterback Keith Smith. "It's just great to see. It shows football is back at Arizona."
The No. 10 Wildcats (5-0 overall, 2-0 Pacific 10 Conference) go up against the Bruins at 7:15 p.m. at Arizona Stadium. For those without tickets the game will be televised live on Fox Sports Arizona.
UA head coach Dick Tomey has to think back a few years to remember this level of excitement over a single game.
"Probably the Miami game," Tomey said, referring to the 1994 Fiesta Bowl victory over the Hurricanes. "In some people's minds this is unexpected, and I think that comes from the dramatic way it happened."
The drama Tomey spoke of came last weekend when UA sophomore quarterback Ortege Jenkins led the Wildcats on an 80-yard drive with less than three minutes remaining, scoring the winning touchdown when he was flipped over two Washington linebackers into the endzone.
"It just opened up so big and I saw it was clear up to the (goal)line," Jenkins said of the play. "The linebackers just froze, they were still in coverage, I guess. I knew there's no way I'm going to run through them, so I just had to go over them."
Smith called Jenkins' play "the greatest I've ever seen."
"It has to be the college play of the year," Smith said.
In that situation the junior QB probably wouldn't have done the same as Jenkins.
"No, I'd have broken my neck," he said. "I would have flipped over, landed on my head, jumped up and collapsed."
Saturday's game matches up two of the nation's longest winning streaks. UCLA has won 13 games in a row and Arizona has won nine.
The Bruins come into the game unbeaten at 3-0, with an easy 49-17 win over Washington State in Pasadena last weekend their most recent victory.
UCLA's lofty ranking is more than enough to convince the Wildcats of the importance of the game.
"It's the biggest one I've ever played in," junior running back Trung Canidate said. "I think the other guys have the same feeling as I've got. We know that this is just another step to achieve our ultimate goal."
Tomey said that seeing the line for tickets should motivate the team.
"That's magnificent for the guys to have that kind of approval from the fans," he said.
This game marks the first time since 1991 that two Pac-10 teams have faced each other with both ranked in the top 10. It is also UCLA's first chance since 1990 to go 2-0 to start its conference season.
Overall, the Bruins are 13-8-2 against Arizona, including last year's 40-27 win in Pasadena. UCLA knocked Smith from the game with a shoulder injury and beat up on the Wildcats, breaking out to a 20-0 lead before Arizona was able to answer.
That game was payback for Arizona's 35-17 victory in Tucson in 1996.
This year's game will go a long way to deciding Arizona's season, as the Wildcats have only two more road games, at Oregon State and California, both unranked teams.
Some people have begun to talk about this game being a possible showdown for a berth in the Fiesta Bowl in January.
"Anybody who's thinking about that is an idiot," Tomey said. "We don't qualify as anything yet. Next Saturday is just half the season for us, only the fourth game for UCLA. We're just trying to win a game like we do every week."
Chris Jackson can be reached via e-mail at Chris.Jackson@wildcat.arizona.edu.