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165 minutes of basketball led Wildcats to Elite 8

“If we go to the Elite 8, I’m watching it with you.”

The next text message from my friend Natasha arrived almost instantly.

“*When we go to the Elite 8.”

Arizona Wildcat fans have been living on the edge of reality for the last two
weeks thanks to a series of heart-stopping contests on the hardwood.

The fifth-seeded Wildcats advanced to the Sweet 16 by virtue of a two-
point victory over Memphis, saved by a last second block by Derrick
Williams and a one point victory over Texas in the next round, saved by a
last second and-1 opportunity for Williams.

Two games in a row? That’s it? Eighty agonizing minutes spent wondering
if this was the end of a brilliant turnaround season for the men from
Tucson. Sounds unpleasant, but manageable.

Now add another 45 minutes to that.

Did I say 45? I meant 65 minutes.

In the Pac-10 tournament title game, the final piece of the puzzle for the
Wildcats leading up to the national tournament, Arizona left every ounce of
blood, sweat and tears on the court of the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Sometimes that just is not enough.

The Wildcats gave up a late lead in regulation and fell at the buzzer to the
Washington Huskies in overtime as Isiah Thomas sank a deep deuce to
break a 75-75 tie. It was UW’s second Pac-10 tournament championship in
a row.

Leading up to Arizona’s Sweet 16 contest with the Duke Blue Devils, Wildcat
nation had lived on pins and needles for 125 straight minutes, on the edge
of reality.

It is hard to mentally process the possibility of sweeping the Pac-10
regular season and tournament championships along with having the POY
and COY in the conference while also processing the possibility of not only
losing the Pac-10 tournament championship but also being elimated in
either the round of 64 or 32.

Why should the start of the Duke game be any different?

Derrick Williams had 25 first half points, but the rest of the team only had
13 without a Wildcat not named “Williams” with more than four. For 20
minutes, the Arizona Wildcats struggled to keep up with Duke, falling
behind by as many as 11 points with under six and half to go. Had it not
been for Williams’ 30-foot three pointer as time expired in the half,
Arizona would have been down nine at the half, as opposed to 44-38.

We have arrived at the 145-minute mark. Almost two and half hours of a
dizzying array of spectacular highs and disappointing lows over a span of
three and a half games. It looked like Arizona was going to fall to the
defending champion Blue Devils, holding their heads high as they would
have accomplished more this season than anybody had expected.

162 minutes. Nothing seemed safe for Arizona in the most exciting 162
minutes in the program’s storied history.

Lamont “MoMo” Jones sank two freethrows with 3:07 remaining in
Arizona’s 12th Sweet 16 appearance to give Arizona a 90-72 lead.

That is right; Arizona held an 18-point lead over the beleagured Blue
Devils, appropriately with Jones firing the silver bullits.

While Williams had 25 in the first, he had only seven of Arizona’s 55 second
half points. The Wildcats would not need any more from their superstar.
While Williams finished with a career-high 32 points, hitting five of six
from three-point land, all while grabbing a game-high 13 rebounds adding
two spectacular dunks, he was hardly the only story for the Wildcats.

The Wildcats started the second half against Duke on a 19-2 run sparked
by Jones, Solomon Hill, Jesse Perry and Kyle Fogg, while Kevin Parrom and
Jamelle Horne were huge off the bench.

Jones finished with 16 points, six assists and no turnovers. Hill added 13
points while Fogg had eight and Parrom and Horne added seven.

Nine of 10 Wildcats that entered the game scored while they out rebounded
the Blue Devils 40-27.

So here were are, the 165-minute mark, four games in total (plus an OT).
Arizona had just defeated Duke 93-77 in the most stunning upset of the
tournament, earning a trip to the team’s ninth Elite Eight and fourth 30-win
season.

The edge of reality is now actuality. The Wildcats are playing with house
money and Derrick Williams cannot be stoped.

Jubilant fans filled University and 4th Avenues as students and the
community took to the streets in celebration of the Wildcats’ biggest
tournament upset since Jason Terry led the 1997 squad over the #1 seeded
Kentucky Wildcats in the Sweet 16 en-route to capturing the national title.

“I will see you Saturday,” I replied via text message to Natasha.

Conneticut awaits Arizona Saturday where they will square off in Anaheim
for the right to represent the West region in the Final Four in Houston one
week later.

The Wildcats are a two and a half point dog to the Huskies (pun intended)
and are 0-4 all time against Jim Calhoun’s squad.

Throw it all out the window.

When the dust settles after the clock rolls over to the 205th minute, the
Arizona Wildcats will be on their way to the Final Four for the fifth time as
they try to duplicate the success of their ‘97 counterparts.

The next 40 minutes will probably be as grueling as the previous 165 as
UConn, led by the nation’s third leading scorer Kemba Walker, comes into
this game on an eight game winning streak, including five in five days on
their way to winning the 2011 Big East tournament championship.

I speak for Wildcat Nation when I say, “Wouldn’t have it any other way.”