Arizona's re-emergence onto the national scene—and the NCAA tournament radar, according to ESPN's Joe Lunardi—was further solidified with a double-digit rout of Colorado at the McKale Center Thursday night.
As Sean Miller noted following last week's potentially season-turning victory in Berkeley over Cal (one of the heavy favorites to win the conference):
Just a week later, that seems like an understatement, with Arizona vaulting into the thick of the Pac-12 regular-season title chase with a 71-57 domination of a hot Colorado squad.
Two weeks after falling in Boulder by one point—impressive considering the team went 3-for-20 from the three-point line—the second matchup was dictated by the Wildcats, with star-in-the-making forward Solomon Hill totaling 16 points and 14 rebounds.
And now Arizona is starting to appear the aggressor, a role it played well last season.
Here are five crucial reasons Arizona is firmly back in the NCAA tournament picture:
Arizona is heavy on guards and small forwards, their main advantage coming via quickness, a trait that is especially glaring on defense.
That asset is being exploited to the Wildcats' advantage far more frequently in the current three-game winning spree.
Against Cal, Josiah Turner's arms were everywhere, forcing several key steals as Arizona built a 14-point halftime lead and then managed to finally hold on to a close one. The defense forced the Golden Bears to miss seven of eight three-point shots, the Cal guards unable to shake Arizona's crew from long range.
Two nights later, Arizona held Stanford to 25.4-percent shooting overall.
Colorado shot just 37 percent.
Arizona's perimeter players can shut down the outside altogether.
The on-ball pressure for the duration of possessions seems to have helped equalize the turnover margin.
And if times get desperate and Arizona needs a large comeback, the athletes seem to be in place to attempt a full-court press, with top-shelf on-ball defenders Turner, Kyle Fogg and Nick Johnson hounding the ball handlers, with help from Solomon Hill.
Allow Angelo Chol, the leading shot-blocker in the history of California high school hoops and second in American history, to fade back as the cleanup man while everyone else flies towards the ball.
Angelo Chol is suddenly a factor in the middle.
Those easy points that murdered the Wildcats in losses to Mississippi State, Florida and UCLA are now being heavily contested, if not rejected, by the 6'9" Chol and his massive wingspan.
Considering the absolute non-factor that Kyryl Natyazhko was early in the year (somehow that guy was in the starting rotation), Chol's growth is a major—and unforeseen—development.
As noted by Arizona Daily Star columnist Greg Hansen, Chol had gone scoreless eight times in Arizona's first 22 games, still seeming unsure of himself at a new level.
That's all changed in two weeks.
After Kevin Parrom went down with a broken foot against Washington, minutes were freed for the big man to emerge.
And in his first game in an extended role, in front of a hostile crowd in Berkeley, Chol took advantage, totaling a loud eight points, four boards and two blocks in 16 minutes.
It's not only on the stat sheet where his presence is felt, as his ability to man the center slot is paying dividends for his counterparts in the post.
It was unfair to continually throw 6'7" Jesse Perry—who went off for 17 points and 13 boards against the Buffaloes—into that role for the duration of games.
And now he's allowed to slot over to his natural power forward position when Chol is on the court, or when Perry needs a rest from crashing into what are usually bigger bodies.
The most promising freshman through Arizona's non-conference slate was, undoubtedly, combo-guard Nick Johnson, a 6'2" guard blessed with unusual leaping ability.
Then came a midseason shooting slump, with Johnson's confidence appearing to be hit, taking a chunk out of of Arizona's scoring output.
But the freshman out of Phoenix, who graduated from the basketball academy that is Nevada's Findlay Prep, is discovering different ways to make sure those points are still being posted, even on the nights his shot is off.
The beauty of his shooting struggles is that Johnson's already become so much more than a high-powered leaper and jump shooter, out of necessity.
Although he's not a pure point guard by trade, he is one of Arizona's premier distributors of the basketball, a role he is seamlessly morphing into as the season progresses.
Johnson's totaled six-assist games three times this year, and came through with five in that decisive victory over Cal.
And even more promising for the future of the program is the chemistry he is developing both with backcourt mate Josiah Turner and freshman center Angelo Chol. Johnson had two smooth dishes to Chol for slams late in that win over the Golden Bears.
Apologies to Jorge Gutierrez, Terrence Ross, Jared Cunningham and whoever else is in the mix for the Pac-12 Player of the Year.
Solomon Hill, the 6'6" junior of Los Angeles' Fairfax High School, is the Pac-12's most complete player, the owner of the featured role on this year's version of Arizona.
That means an unfair amount of pressure heaped onto him to become the driving force behind taking this Arizona team on another deep NCAA tourney jaunt, just as No. 2 NBA pick Derrick Williams did in 2011.
Over Arizona's latest burst, he is maximizing his potential, becoming a weapon going at the basket, a slam machine when he's not being fouled.
He's shown the ability to carry this team even when most of the rest of the pieces are struggling, as evidenced in a 28-point, 11-rebound performance in a two-point loss to Washington in late January.
For the season he is averaging over 12 points, eight boards and nearly three assists per night.
Hill, at over 225 pounds, owns a sound handle, allowing him to operate stealthily even in the midst of heavy traffic. That's led to some resounding dunks that have fueled Arizona runs.
And he's done most of it while also guarding much larger players on the defensive end, often filling the power forward slot, not his more-fitting small forward position.
Arizona lost on three straight Saturdays by a combined five points before pounding Stanford on Feb. 4.
That's the difference between sitting comfortably in the Top 25 at 20-5 or instead riding the fringe of making it into the NCAA tourney.
Even despite the heartbreakers, Arizona is still in fine shape to at least share the Pac-12 title. A big road game looms next Saturday afternoon in Seattle against Washington.
If Arizona is able to win out during the regular season, with games against Utah, Washington, Washington State, USC, UCLA and Arizona State remaining, the Wildcats would sit at 23-8, 14-4 in the Pac-12, entering the conference tourney.
They'd likely win the conference with that record, and be a lock for March Madness.
The reason this isn't such a stretch is the wide-open nature of the Pac-12.
Arizona is currently in a three-way tie for second in the Pac-12, sitting at 8-4 along with Colorado and Oregon. Just a game ahead are Washington and Cal at 9-3.
The final three weekends of the conference season are trending towards intense.