Throughout their undefeated 17-game run so far this season, the Arizona Wildcats insist they’ve kept their heads down.
“That’s kind of just the mentality of us,” guard T.J. McConnell said. “We can’t ever overlook an opponent.”
Having set the school record for best start after a 73-53 win at USC on Sunday, the No. 1 Wildcats don’t want to look up now.
Doing so might be too tempting.
Colorado just lost standout guard Spencer Dinwiddie for the season with a torn ACL. Oregon’s swagger is gone after three straight losses. Cal is still without two key players, though the Bears are 3-0 in Pac-12 games. Stanford guard Aaron Bright dislocated a shoulder and is also out for the year.
And ASU, Arizona’s opponent Thursday, just suffered a 15-point loss at UCLA, where star guard Jahii Carson continued a shooting slump. The Sun Devils already have two Pac-12 losses.
So 17-0 could become 18-0, 19-0, 20-0 … and maybe beyond. The Kenpom.com website, in fact, doesn’t project UA losing any of its remaining games, though it does predict a cumulative probability of two UA losses the rest of the way.
There’s an expected momentum now, and guard Nick Johnson is trying to foster it.
“I want to keep this streak alive, go into March with a really solid team and have a lot of confidence,” Johnson said. “Our goal is national championship — get to Dallas (for the Final Four), we’ll see.”
But even with that, Johnson says he won’t get ahead of himself.
“If we look ahead to Oregon or Colorado, or anything like that, then ASU might get us,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to focus on each individual opponent.”
Not surprisingly, that’s exactly what UA coach Sean Miller is preaching.
The record is nice, but the Sun Devils await.
“We have a lot of pride in what we’ve done, but whether it’s about the No. 1 ranking or winning the most games in a row at the beginning of the season, it’s not as if that’s the end goal,” Miller said. “This is our path and now we have to move towards a rivalry game against ASU. And every team we play it’s such an incredible opportunity for them. We have to really be ready.”
USA honor expected
USA Basketball will announce its male Athlete of the Year today in conjunction with an announcement at Arizona, according to Craig Miller, USA Basketball’s chief communications officer.
That suggests UA freshman Aaron Gordon will have another honor to add to his collection. Gordon already was the MVP of the U19 World Championships last summer, leading the team in scoring and rebounding while coming off the bench, and he also started for USA’s Hoop Summit team last spring against a collection of top young international players.
The U19 victory was considered a big one for USA Basketball, which has won the event only three times in the eight championships played since 1987.
As they did in Los Angeles, the Wildcats will be spending four nights on the road during all of their Pac-12 road trips this season, because all of their remaining games have at least two full days between them.
While that worked out OK at USC, after UA shook off some early game sluggishness Sunday, it’s not always easy.
“It’s tough because you’re together a lot and in another city,” Miller said, “but at the same time it can’t be all about the next game. So there’s a balancing act, and as a coach, you really trust the leaders of our team.
“T.J. (McConnell) and Nick (Johnson) really do a great job on and off the court, and we kind of follow their lead, so to speak.”
Nobody was probably happier to see McConnell score 19 points on 5-for-7 three-point shooting against the Trojans than Johnson was.
“I’ve been trying to get him to shoot all year,” Johnson said. “He finally did it, so that’s what we need. It opens up a lot of other shots for people.”
McConnell is now shooting 35.1 percent from three-point range after having gone 0 for 6 in UA’s first three Pac-12 games.
“I’ve been struggling past couple of games,” McConnell said. “I thank my teammates for getting me the ball. … It’s about time, because I haven’t been hitting them in a while.”
- Arizona’s wins over UCLA and USC made for its first sweep in Los Angeles since 2004-05. The Wildcats entered Sunday’s game 2-6 at USC since 2005-06, and technically 1-6 because the 2007-08 win was vacated because of NCAA sanctions.
- Cal guard
- Justin Cobbs
- was named the Pac-12’s Player of the Week after averaging 20 points, 10 assists and 5.5 rebounds in the Bears’ sweep at Oregon and Oregon State.
- Johnson’s five steals against USC were the most by a UA player this season.