BASKETBALL

Arizona basketball: Cats back on track, but UCLA looms

2013-01-21T00:00:00Z 2014-08-01T11:24:28Z Arizona basketball: Cats back on track, but UCLA loomsBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 21, 2013 12:00 am  • 

After his Wildcats collected the Diamond Head Classic trophy in Honolulu and took a few days off for a late Christmas vacation, coach Sean Miller worried that his team lost its practice rhythm.

Sure enough, Arizona barely beat Colorado and Utah at home after the break, then lost its only game of the season so far, on Jan. 10 at Oregon.

But that problem appears to have been solved now. The Cats had a full week of practice to prepare for their 71-54 win over ASU on Saturday, not only getting ready for the Sun Devils but also getting their natural rhythm restored.

"We're more into a routine now," Miller said. "Guys have started school. We're playing generally two games a week. We have that day off (every week) and this is a time of great improvement for us if we take advantage of it."

Last week, the No. 7 Cats practiced Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and Miller told his players during his postgame locker room speech Saturday that every one of the Wildcats contributed to the preparation. He repeated that belief to the media afterward.

"One of the things we did really well before this game was we practiced really well, we watched film and we tried to work on our weaknesses," Miller said. "Everybody showed up on time and worked. We knew this was a big game.

"Now we have to do that same thing, so when we get to Thursday we're ready."

Yes, Thursday. For as big as the buildup to ASU was, the Wildcats will actually have more at stake Thursday, when they host UCLA in a game that should help further shape the conference race.

The Wildcats were put in first place in voting for the Pac-12's official preseason poll by only one point, 403-402, over UCLA. While Oregon has inserted itself firmly as the early leader, beating UCLA on Saturday to sit alone in first place at 5-0, the Wildcats and Bruins both had a preseason suggesting they could win the conference.

The No. 24 Bruins won 10 straight before Saturday, but their confidence may have taken a hit when the Ducks beat them 76-67 at Pauley Pavilion after top scorer Shabazz Muhammad was held out of the starting lineup because he was late to Friday's practice.

Now the Bruins have to try to turn it around on a road trip to UA and ASU that doesn't promise to be easy.

"This is going to take true character to come back with two decent wins," UCLA guard Norman Powell told the Los Angeles Times on Saturday.

But with Arizona, not only is the rhythm back after the ASU week but so, apparently, is the Wildcats' belief in themselves after their 70-66 loss at Oregon.

"We feel wonderful," UA guard Mark Lyons said. "Feel wonderful. We just got a great win over a great team and our confidence is only going to get better. We're getting better defensively and if we keep that up the sky's the limit for us."

The Wildcats won't get another shot at the Ducks in the regular season, thanks to the Pac-12's unbalanced schedule. But they will get two cracks at the Bruins, with the second battle coming in Los Angeles on March 2, the next-to-last weekend of the regular season.

UA believes it is ready for Round 1 against the Bruins.

"It's just getting back to how we were playing again," forward Solomon Hill said. "The Oregon loss, we got a little fat and happy, and now we're just refocusing in on the rest of the Pac-12. We had a great run going 12-0 (in nonconference play), but now we've got to continue to honor the process and get back out there."

Up next

• Who: No. 23 UCLA at No. 7 Arizona

• When: 7 p.m. Thursday

• TV: ESPN2

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

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