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This co-leading team could continue crazy trend at NCAA Championship

CARLSBAD, Calif. – After his second-seeded Wildcats finished fourth at the NCAA West Lafayette Regional, Arizona head coach Jim Anderson was informed of a crazy trend that had developed over the past few NCAA Championships.

Each of the previous three NCAA team champions had been No. 2 seeds and placed fourth at regionals: Pepperdine in 2021, Texas in 2022 and Florida last year.

“We’ll take it!” Anderson responded via text.

Ten days later, Arizona is already taking matters into its own hands. The Wildcats went out in the afternoon wave Friday at Omni La Costa and posted a 2-over opening round to share the 18-hole lead with Virginia.

“I was really proud of the way they handled a national-championship setup, and we showed great composure,” Anderson said. “We put the ball where we needed to most of the time. When we were out of position, we put it back in the right spots.”

Remarkably, on a day where the scoring average was 3.84 shots over par and 22 rounds were posted in the 80s, the Wildcats did not card a double bogey or worse.

“If we continue doing that and make some birdies like we did, that’s usually a pretty good recipe,” added Anderson, who also did not have a player shoot worse than 3-over 75; Tiger Christensen led the way for Arizona with a 70.

Virginia, the only other No. 2 regional seed that advanced to nationals (four No. 2 seeds and top-seeded Arizona State did not advance past regionals), carded just one double as a squad and also threw out a 75.

“We talked about it last night and this morning,” Virginia head coach Bowen Sargent said. “The start that we had, 12-17 were some of the hardest holes on the course. We knew we were going to struggle and [have to] get some back on the backside.”

The six-hole stretch of Nos. 12-17 consists of six of the toughest seven holes on the course. Teams such as Tennessee (16 over on those holes, 17 over in Round 1), Wake Forest (11 over, 10 over), Vanderbilt (9 over, 9 over) and Florida (7 over, 7 over) had costly passes through those holes. Arizona was just 2 over in that stretch while Virginia was 5 over before playing the front in 2 under with just four bogeys from its counting scorers.

Georgia Tech sophomore Hiroshi Tai, who served 22 months of mandatory national military service in the Singapore navy before coming to school, leads individually after a 5-under 67, a shot better than Adam Wallin of Ohio State.

North Carolina (3 over), Georgia Tech (4 over), and Illinois and Auburn (5 over) round out the top five. Vanderbilt, the second-ranked team in the nation, is T-12, two shots back of eighth-place and defending national champ Florida. No. 5 Tennessee is the only top-10 team outside of T-17; the Vols are solo 24th, 10 shots out of eighth.