Arizona Basketball

Arizona Wildcats back to flexing muscle in difficult non-conference games

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PP: Productivity Points (Points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocked shots, FGs made, FTs made added together and then subtracted by missed FGs, missed FTs, personal fouls and turnovers)
MIN: Minutes played overall
PR: Productivity rating per minute played (Productivity points divided by minutes played)


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“We schedule these games because they’re tough. We don’t want to play just anybody and win all of the time. You want to play in these types of games and win in this type of atmosphere. We have a great enough team that we can accomplish things on the road. We always come in with the road-warrior mentality.”
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

Arizona Wildcats coach Sean Miller, a coach’s son, obviously knows how to prepare his team for a challenge and is meticulous in all phases of the program: Recruiting, hiring of assistants, media engagement, community interactions, etc.

Sean Miller has built Arizona to a point where it can succeed against a daunting schedule (YouTube capture)

Sean Miller has built Arizona to a point where it can succeed against a difficult schedule (YouTube capture)

Former Arizona Wildcats athletic director Jim Livengood said of Miller after hiring the young coach in 2009: “He gets it.” That’s all we needed to know.

Now, we get it. All of us who had a wait-and-see mentality about Miller, who had only five years of head coaching experience at mid-major Xavier, have come to our senses. Those who questioned whether Miller can recruit the West coast after never stepping foot in this area as a coach, know better.

Miller is in his fifth season at Arizona — has it really been that long? — and the program’s followers have come to appreciate the way he also is meticulous with his non-conference scheduling. His formula to get Arizona back to national prominence involved scaling back the schedule in his first three years.


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Other than Derrick Williams leaving to the NBA, a significant reason why Arizona did not make the NCAA tournament in Miller’s third season in 2011-12 (a year after advancing to the Elite Eight) the non-conference schedule included not much more than San Diego State, Florida and Gonzaga. Arizona was 0-3 against those teams. The Wildcats (21-12) loaded up winnable games at home against Valparaiso, Duquesne (with T.J. McConnell), Ball State, NAU, Clemson, Oakland and Bryant.

Two years later, Miller is duplicating Lute Olson’s scheduling practice. Miller timed it right to nationally showcase a talented Arizona team. A game at New Mexico State, as was the case in 2011-12, was replaced by one at Michigan on Saturday.

“You can’t win a game like this unless you play the game,” Miller told Greg Anthony of CBS after defeating Michigan.

Arizona has victories over San Diego State, Duke and Michigan (all top 40 teams in the Pomeroy power ratings). All of those games were outside of Tucson. The Wildcats’ non-conference schedule has only two games remaining against Southern on Thursday and NAU on Dec. 23 before Washington State comes to town Jan. 2.

The Wildcats appear headed for a 13-0 record by New Year’s Day. Arizona can achieve its fourth unbeaten record in November and December in the program’s history. It can happen for Miller for the second time already. His team was 12-0 last year after beating San Diego State in the Diamond Head Classic championship on Christmas evening.

The other unbeaten teams in November and December were the 1987-88 and 1998-99 teams. The 1987-88 team with Sean Elliott, Steve Kerr, and Co., was 12-0 after beating Duke at McKale Center on Dec. 30, 1987. The 1998-99 team with Jason Terry and A.J. Bramlett was 8-0 by January.

Arizona’s success this early rivals that of the 1987-88 team, which defeated Michigan, Syracuse, Iowa and Michigan State in addition to Duke. That was Olson’s first Final Four team in his fifth season in Tucson. This is Miller’s fifth season and Arizona is a Final Four-caliber team.

Olson built Arizona’s program enough to schedule that way. Miller’s recruiting success has paved the way for him to do the same for 2013-14.

The Wildcats can beat a team in various ways with flawless guard play, athleticism on the wing with freshmen Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and dominant play in the paint with Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley.

Ashley and Tarczewski made Michigan big man Mitch McGary (eight points and only four rebounds) obsolete. Ashley and Tarczewski combined for 32 points and 15 rebounds. Michigan’s leading rebounder was guard Nik Stauskas with six. The Wildcats out-rebounded Michigan 37-24 to continue their phenomenal plus-14.2 a game margin.


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[table “” not found /] publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes articles for Bleacher Report, Lindy’s College Sports and


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