When the Arizona Wildcats hired Lute Olson as coach in 1983, UCLA's dominance in the West Coast came to an end. That sentence is overwhelming considering the Bruins' place in the history of college basketball.
The reality of it signifies why Arizona and UCLA comprise one of the best rivalries in college basketball. In the 1960s and most of the 1970s no program could dream to challenge the UCLA dominance that John Wooden achieved in Westwood, Calif.
Could one program actually look UCLA in the eye without flinching after the Bruins won 10 national titles and advanced to 10 consecutive Final Fours under Wooden?
Three years after Wooden retired in 1975, Arizona and ASU joined the conference to make it the Pac-10. Five years after that, in 1983, Arizona's version of Wooden, the Hall of Famer Olson, changed the landscape of West Coast basketball.
The Wildcats are by no means the equal of UCLA in the history of the sport, but from 1983 on, Arizona does not take a backseat to the Bruins. The Wildcats are UCLA's equal in stature. Literally. Since Olson's hire in 1983-84, Arizona and UCLA are 32-32 in their series leading up to Thursday night's game at Pauley Pavilion between the rivals.
“The Arizona-UCLA game is the signature game of college basketball in the western United States," UCLA legend Bill Walton, whose son Luke attended Arizona, said last year while analyzing the game between the Wildcats and Bruins, per WildAboutAZCats.net.
Nothing tops the rivalry between Arizona and UCLA in college basketball since the mid-1980s except Duke-North Carolina and Louisville-Kentucky.
The reasons include the prolific amount of NBA players produced by the programs, the dramatic moments that impacted the conference race and championships, their nine Final Four appearances and the two national titles won by the Bruins and Wildcats.
Other factors for why the Arizona-UCLA rivalry is by far the best the West has to offer: The recruiting wars, the teams winning 75 percent of the conference titles in the last 28 years and the way the creators of their dominance—Wooden and Olson—are viewed as royalty in college basketball.
The rivalry has a fresh look with young coaches Steve Alford, 49, of UCLA and Sean Miller, 45, of Arizona commanding their respective programs. Alford has never coached against Arizona. Miller has never coached against Alford.
That will take place Thursday at Pauley Pavilion. Because of the Pac-12's unbalanced scheduling, UCLA and Arizona do not play at McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz., for the first time in 35 years, which is a shame. One of college basketball's best rivalries deserves two games in the regular season.
The following slideshow display reasons why UCLA and Arizona continue to comprise an unmatched rivalry west of the Mississippi.