An hour before the big game versus Arizona State on Saturday, I was sitting in a bar with a few good friends on Mill Avenue in Tempe, sipping on drinks and devouring nachos. It was my first time there, and in the spirit of hating all things ASU, I decided that Fourth Avenue's diversity and culture beat Mill's disinfected shopping-mall feel any day. Our final days as UA students were nearing, and we were preparing for one final Pacific 10 Conference hurrah as students and fans of Arizona men's basketball.
Wildcat basketball has been a part of my life since I can remember. My mom went to school at the UA in the 1970s, and she raised me to be a loyal fan of the program. In 1997, when Miles Simon led the Cats to their only Lute Olson championship in Indianapolis, I was in attendance with my mother. That game was one of the greatest sporting experiences of my life: an overtime victory over the crazy blue of Kentucky and a level of excitement and elation I never thought possible from sports.
That feeling and spirit had been culling up inside, latent and waiting for release for eight long years when I found myself walking into a half-empty yet contemptuous Wells Fargo Arena. Arizona took an early lead that quickly evaporated, and when it did, I began to find out just what the UA and ASU rivalry is all about.
The stadium filled up; the entire upper bowl was red, the lower bowl gold, and UA fans replied with dirty words to ASU chants. Bitter, nasty exchanges could be heard between the rival spectators, fights were nearly incited, and the game was closely played at a thrilling pace. To UA fans' collective delight, Salim Stoudamire was lighting it up in the first half, but he had almost half of the team's first-half points and our lead at halftime was only by one.
In the second half, the intensity and anticipation were reaching new heights. With just a few minutes to go, Hassan Adams got called for a shot-clock violation, and the arena absolutely erupted. UA and ASU fans were screaming in unison, and there is nothing quite like it when an arena begins to rumble due to this combined exuberance. I felt goose bumps. The excitement was peaking: Would Arizona pull it out, or would ASU exact vengeance for their long history of defeat at the Cats' hands?
But I realized something then. Sure, the story is better to tell if you win the game, but the experience itself is well worth the drive and the price of admission. Screaming my lungs to ragged oblivion, like smoking a pack of cigarettes in an hour, and doing so with the same guys I watched Arizona basketball with when I was a freshman living in the Arizona-Sonora Residence Hall, was good enough for me.
But the basketball gods were on Arizona's side this day, and all expectations would be surpassed. With 20 seconds left and the game tied, Stoudamire took the ball to center court, dribbled, and drove; he took an off-balance jumper from 10 feet that swooshed through the net with six-tenths of a second to go. As soon as the ball sailed through the nylon, the upper bowl leapt for joy and hasn't landed since.
My mind and the place were frenzied; the atmosphere combined with the style of play and competitiveness made this day live up to its billing. There were numerous small transgressions between rival fans. But the day passed without any serious problems, probably because everyone there understood that what they had witnessed was one of the greatest games of all time for this particular rivalry
Leaving the arena I harkened back to Indianapolis eight years prior. Arizona's victory over ASU on Saturday made me feel like that little kid again, jumping for joy and waving my Miles Simon jersey like a helicopter down the streets of the sleepy Indiana capital. Today, I felt much the same: Other Wildcat fans and I sailed through the streets anticipating the postseason and reflecting on one of the greatest games anyone had ever watched in person.
The ride home was quiet. We had just witnessed an amazing game and had undertaken a short road trip none of us will forget for years to come. We arrived back in Tucson, had a few celebratory drinks and called it a night. With the knowledge that our undergraduate lives were drawing to a beautiful conclusion, we rested easy and dreamt of how satisfying the next few weeks could be if the Wildcats give us an entertaining and joyous postseason.
Dan Post is an anthropology and ecology senior. He can be reached at email@example.com.