Arizona 73, Arizona State 58: Taking momentum to Vegas

UA's Nick Johnson finishes a fast-break dunk over ASU's Carrick Felix - off a steal from Solomon Hill - to give the Cats a 44-28 lead early in the second half. "That's the Nick that's played with us the entire season," says coach Sean Miller, who liked Johnson's defense, too.


Loyal Arizona basketball fans have bought every ticket for Pac-12 games this season, boosted the Wildcats undisputably in close wins over Florida and Colorado and put on every color T-shirt they've been asked to wear for promotional gimmicks.

And maybe, in a sense, that's part of the problem.

Underneath Arizona's eye-opening 20-2 start this season, there's a small, ironic blemish that the Wildcats are establishing. They don't shoot as well, defend as well, or outscore opponents as much at home as they do on the road - and they have dug early holes in five of 12 McKale Center games.

But UA coach Sean Miller says it's not because the Wildcats aren't ready.

It is, he indicated, because they want to please all those fans and defend their homecourt.

"If there's a difference in McKale with our team, it's feeling some anxiety to perform well," Miller said. "It's not that we think we're better than the other team, or that we had a poor (pregame) shootaround and came out sluggish. We have the type of team that sometimes is a little overanxious. And we don't always get off to that attacking style."

Arizona's Jan. 24 "white-out" game against UCLA, an ESPN2-televised showdown between the two preseason favorites to win the Pac-12, was a case in point.

With most of the over-capacity crowd of 14,617 wearing white T-shirts that gave McKale Center a noticeably bright glow, the Wildcats missed 12 of their first 13 shots, many of which were layups or open jumpers.

They fell behind 19-3 and never caught up, losing 84-73. Five days later, Miller said the "white-out" idea may be retired.

"I think we might have been overly anxious for the UCLA game, knowing that it was such a big game for us and that they have some major players on their team," freshman forward Brandon Ashley said two days later, after UA beat USC. "I think we were too excited. That's why we came out to such a slow start. Everyone wanted to play so well that we ended up messing ourselves up."

To Cal coach Mike Montgomery, who is in his 23rd season as a head coach in the Pac-12 between stops at Cal and Stanford, it's not all that unusual.

Being at home "helps veteran players because they're used to everything, but sometimes new players have so much pressure," Montgomery said. "Sometimes at home, you know you have to win those games. There's pressure for some of those young guys."

Montgomery has seen both sides of that homecourt issue, especially against the Wildcats. At the height of the Arizona-Stanford rivalry in the early 2000s, when both teams were perennially ranked, Montgomery actually had more success at McKale Center than Maples Pavilion against Arizona.

From 2000-2001 to 2003-04, Stanford was 4-0 against UA at McKale but 1-3 against the Wildcats at Maples.

Since arriving at Cal in 2008-09, Montgomery has also had success in Tucson. The Bears snapped a 13-game losing streak at McKale in 2008-09, winning 83-77, and they have lost the last two games at UA by an average of three points.

But Montgomery stopped well short of saying he actually enjoys coaching at McKale.

"No," Montgomery said. "Players compete. It's nothing to do with buildings. Players make plays, players compete. We had great players at Stanford and there were some great matchups."

To Miller, some perspective is also needed here: UA has actually led in 16 of its 22 games at the first media timeout, a period of at least four minutes.

But five of those deficits were at home - the sixth was in UA's 57-53 win at Washington on Jan. 31 - while the Wildcats have trailed early in three of their past five games overall.

That's why Miller has publicly floated the idea of a lineup swap today.

Essentially, he's trying to find starting players who won't let McKale Center and all those fans down.

"Part of it is addressing those five guys out there," Miller said. "One of the things we have to make sure of is we're putting five guys out there at the beginning of the game who can perform and give us a good start."

On StarNet: Join other college basketball lovers in a live fan chat during the UA-Cal game at

McKale Madness

Arizona's slow starts during home games this season:

Date Opponent Early deficit Result

Nov. 11 Charleston Southern 11-3 W, 82-73

Dec. 4 Southern Miss 10-3 W, 63-55

Jan. 3 Colorado 21-7 W, 92-83 (OT)

Jan. 24 UCLA 19-3 L, 84-73

Feb. 6 Stanford 10-0 W,73-66

Big statistical differences between UA's five road and five home games in Pac-12 play this season:

What's better when Arizona is on the ROAD:

TEAM (road vs. home)

Field goal shooting percentage (44.0 vs. 40.8)

Three-point shooting percentage (34.3 vs 29.7)

Three-point defense percentage (31.2 vs. 38.1)

Scoring margin (8.2 points vs. 6.4)

INDIVIDUAL (road vs. home)

Mark Lyons' shooting percentage (45.1 vs 39.7)

Nick Johnson's three-point percentage (38.5 vs. 17.6)

Kaleb Tarczewski's free throw percentage (84.2 percent vs. 46.7)

Kevin Parrom's free throw percentage (83.3 vs 62.5)

Nick Johnson's rebounding (4.6 vs 3.2)

Kaleb Tarczewski's rebounding (6.2 vs. 4.6)

Grant Jerrett's blocked shots (2.2 vs. 0.8)

Solomon Hill's fouls (1.4 vs 3.1)

What's better when Arizona is at HOME

TEAM (home vs. road)

Free throw attempts (23.2 vs. 17.2)

Rebounding margin (5.8 vs 2.8)

INDIVIDUAL (home vs. road)

Solomon Hill's free throw attempts (4.8 vs. 1.0)

Solomon Hill's rebounding (7.0 vs 4.8)

Kevin Parrom's rebounding (7.0 vs 3.0)

Grant Jerrett's rebounding (5.8 vs. 3.4)

Mark Lyons' assist-turnover ratio (1.25 vs 0.82)

Kevin Parrom's assists (2.6 vs 1.0)


• Who: California (13-9, 5-5) at No. 7 Arizona (20-2, 8-2)

• When: 5 p.m.

• TV: Pac-12 Arizona

• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)