Arizona Basketball

Locked in Arizona finds its groove to run past WSU

For 12 or so minutes, Arizona looked the part of an elite team, running and stunning its way to a resounding win in McKale Center.

It felt like the good old days. Those have been rare moments all season. Flashes yes, consistent not so much.

So, where has this team been all season? Temper that by knowing it was just Washington State it beat up on, 83-62, but still. Aren’t you looking for any sign of life from the Wildcats? Arizona is now 20-10 overall and 10-7 in the Pac-12, having a chance to finish as high as third in the race if things go well.

Still, wasn’t this the team it was supposed to be all year? Having runs like it did on Thursday, like the 26-0 run to put the Cougars to sleep? Arizona coach Sean Miller said, “we certainly have it in us.”

It just hasn’t happened enough.

“I think we’re capable of it,” Nico Mannion said of the run. “When we are locked in, we can do that more often.”

Still, this was the team most expected to see in 2019-20 but has seen nothing of the sorts for most of the season. But in a season of inconsistent play and now untold trouble (seniors Chase Jeter and Max Hazzard did not play and are out), Arizona will likely take what it can get as the regular season winds down and post-season play begins next week.

“When we are locked in, we’re a really confident group when we are playing hard and getting stops and playing in transition that’s when we are playing at our best,” said Mannion, who had his second straight good game.

Mannion led the charge with a game-high 23 points. And, well, looked the part of the big-time recruit everyone had hoped to see when he arrived on campus in August. Wasn’t this the guy everyone thought they’d see?

“It’s a world of expectations that are almost impossible to meet,” Miller said when asked about Mannion and his hype.

Miller said if one looked at his season (minutes, play, role) he’s had a “dynamic first year, but we’re all holding him to this standard of excellence of today’s world of college basketball.”

Miller said, “it just takes time to get comfortable.”

Now might be that time.

“I’m feeling good, my body feels good,” he said. “I’ve been in the gym extra, more than I was in the past this season. That helps me with my confidence, seeing shots go in. Getting my extra work in knowing that I’m feeling good and my shots are going in.”

There’s no time like the present to get it going. Last week, Mannion scored 19 in a loss to UCLA. Thursday, he added seven assists to one turnover to go with his 23 points. Mannion said during some of the bad moments he said that he “had to stick to my process and that’s going to win out.”

He said his teammates have always been behind him “and I’m always confident in myself. If I stuck with the process and stayed in the gym to get my extra work in, everything would fall in line.”

And it has the last couple of weeks. One game has turned into two, but can it turn into three, etc.?

Miller said Nico “was terrific” in running the team and “playing with a lot of confidence. I really hope that continues for both him and our team.”

Miller did say that if Arizona can play defense as well as it can and offense as well as it can, “I feel we can play with anybody, and we’ve proven that.”

Now would be the time to do it given the time of year with just one game left in the regular season and next week’s Pac-12 tournament starting on Wednesday.

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