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Monday, February 21, 2011
Arizona a national championship sleeper?

By Diamond Leung

Things continue to fall right for Arizona. The Wildcats now have a two-game lead in the Pac-10 after beating preseason favorite Washington on Saturday with Derrick Williams leading the way and Cal winning against UCLA last night. Today, they entered the top 10 in both national polls for the first time since January 2007.

Have we mentioned that Arizona is back? Many times. But how many people are talking about the 23-4 Wildcats being a possibility to win the national title?

USC coach Kevin O'Neill, the former Arizona coach and successor-in-waiting to Lute Olson, did just that in an interview with Stephen A. Smith last week.
"A team I really think has got a chance that needs to obviously grow up a little bit and get better -- I think Arizona has a chance. And I'm not just pumping our league. They have a star player in Derrick Williams, they're 11-deep, they shoot the 3 better than anybody in the country top to bottom.

"So I think our league might represent itself a little bit better. To me, Arizona's kind of a sleeper team to try to win the national title."

Rather than O'Neill taking over the team long-term, it was Sean Miller who was hired. He has led a quick rebuilding project after seeing the Wildcats and their 25-year streak of NCAA tournament appearances stopped when they missed out in his first season.

They certainly have the championship pedigree, and like O'Neill said, with Williams emerging into a national player of the year candidate and a likely first-round NBA draft pick-type player, many things are possible for this team.

According to the Arizona Daily Star, fans already have the future in mind, chanting "One More Year" at Williams and bringing a sign to the game for the ESPN broadcast reading, "dErrick, Stay and Play aNother year."

But there is plenty of season left for the Wildcats and Williams to make more memories. They can clinch the Pac-10 regular-season title by going on the road and sweeping the Los Angeles schools this week.

And then in the NCAA tournament after a one-year absence, don't expect Arizona to go quietly.