During one season late in Lute Olson’s Arizona career, the Wildcats were departing their Spokane, Wash., hotel after playing Washington State when a bellman stopped Olson.
“Why don’t you stay and play Gonzaga?” he said.
Olson smiled. But the matchup never happened in Spokane, at the new or old versions of the Kennel.
Now it might.
UA coach Sean Miller said today that the school is discussing a true home-and-home series with the Zags that could start in 2014-15 or 2015-16. Arizona is basically “full” next season of big nonconference games (against UNLV, San Diego State and Michigan) but has now added Missouri for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons and is talking to Gonzaga.
“It wouldn’t start next year but perhaps the year after, where they come to McKale and we finish at their on-campus facility,” Miller said. “That’s certainly in the cards. We know that nonconference scheduling is important, gaining confidence, and playing against different styles. I think we’ve done some of that already” this season.
Missouri is scheduled to open its series with UA by visiting McKale Center in 2015-16 while the game will be returned in Columbia, Mo., in 2016-17.
Gonzaga and UA last season finished a two-year deal that had the Zags playing in Phoenix during the 2008-09 season and UA returning the game in Seattle last December. Gonzaga and UA also met in their classic double-overtime NCAA tournament game in 2003 at Salt Lake City, and once at McKale -- but never in Spokane.
Here’s how the next four seasons look so far for Arizona in out-of-conference scheduling:
UNLV (first game of four-year series)
At San Diego State (last game of two-year series started last season)
At Michigan (first game of two-year series)
at UNLV (second game)
MICHIGAN (second game)
At UTEP (second game of two-year series started this season)
MISSOURI (first game of two-year series)
UNLV (third game)
at Missouri (second game)
at UNLV (fourth game)
The Wildcats are also expected to play in the NIT Tip-Off next season, and the Maui Invitational in 2014-15.
This season's nonconference schedule, meanwhile, hasn't received a lot of buzz until this week, with the Florida game looming. But Miller said he believed the schedule will ultimately serve the Wildcats well.
"We have played quite a few teams than in a quiet way will do really well," Miller said. "No one wants to hear me talk about Charleston Southern but I think if you follow them they’ll be right near the top of their conference and they’ve got a quality team.
"Sometimes, it's about just beating a number of good teams. When we go to Hawaii, and we haven't gotten there yet, there are three opportunities that we don't have yet -- (possibly against) San Diego State, possibly one of the best teams inn the country, and Ole Miss and Miami, and there are others. ... so we just have to focus on improving and playing the games on our schedule.
"I know we’re 7-0, they can’t take that away from us and we only play 12 ... But I think after playing 12 nonconference games we will have had good balance, we've been on the road, on a neutral court, played against a couple of teams who are really good and some teams that are just good."
Miller said most of his players finished finals by today, giving them this afternoon and Friday to focus on Florida.
Not that this team has been prone to distraction or anything, like it was a year ago.
"Our team is one of those teams that’s very consistent in their approach and part of what makes them consistent is they handle their business off the court," Miller said. "We’re not dealing with a whole lot of drama that approaches us on a daily basis away from basketball.
"I think our guys have really taken final exams like they should, with great importance. We have players our on different ends of the spectrum. We have guys who ware really coming down the home stretch of graduation where they see the light at the end of the tunnel, and we have a lot of players taking final exams in college for the first time."
Both of the players UA selected for interviews today, Solomon Hill and Nick Johnson, expressed no worries about their studies.
"I just finished up my finals (Wednesday) and it went pretty well," Hill said, then asking Johnson what he thought.
"Mine went pretty well, too," Johnson said, smiling.
While both Hill and Johnson spoke as if the Florida game was just like any other this season, Miller said he talked to his players about how to approach what could be the top matchup of the month in college basketball.
"The one thing I’ve told the team this isn’t an NCAA tournament game in March," Miller said. "This is a huge nonconference game for both teams because it is a great opportunity. If we’re fortunate enough to win we all know that beating a team like Florida has great meaning because of how god they are. But either way, I know we’re going to be better after the game and we’re going to learn a lot about our team."
Freshman guard Gabe York has not played in UA's past two games but Miller said York is continuing to work hard in practice and that there may be a need for him in what is now a shrinking UA rotation.
"It’s just right now we're going with our veteran players and guys who have been in these big games more than others," Miller said. "He could (find a role) and he's working hard to carve out that role. Foul trouble dictates a lot of things and we’re always one foul away from that next guy being called on. That's why it's important that he keeps working hard, which he is."