Arizona back atop basketball rankings after 10-year absence

TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona is back atop the men’s college basketball rankings for the first time in more than 10 years.

The 9-0 Wildcats are ranked No. 1 in both the Associated Press and the USA Today coaches polls.

The last time Arizona was ranked No. 1 was March 10, 2003, when its lineup included the likes of Luke Walton, Jason Gardner, Channing Frye and Salim Stoudemire. Now, it’s T.J. McConnell, Aaron Gordon, Nick Johnson, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski.

“It’s a great honor,” Johnson said. “It’s something  everybody on our team has dreamed about since we were little kids … In the last weeks it’s something we’ve locked in on.”

The Wildcats began the year at No. 6 but have made a gradual climb to the top with victories over San Diego State and Duke while the likes of Kentucky, Michigan State, Kansas, Duke and Louisville fell by the wayside with losses. Michigan State, which had been No. 1 for three weeks, dropped to fifth after losing 79-65 at home to North Carolina.

The Wildcats then staked their claim by overcoming a scare from UNLV in a 63-58 victory on Saturday.

The Wildcats are still five wins short of last season’s 14-0 start that helped them climb to No. 3 in the polls before losing to Oregon the first week of January. That would be their high-water mark, as they fell to No. 21 at the end of the regular season.

This season seems to have more promise, though their stay at the top will get an immediate challenge this week when they travel to Ann Arbor, Mich., on Saturday for a game with Michigan.

Before that, the Wildcats have a home game on Wednesday against New Mexico State. Their expecting to get every opponent’s best effort.

“No one has to remind us that everyone likes to beat the team that is No. 1,” coach Sean Miller said.

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