WILDCATS

Arizona basketball: Chemistry could be acid test

As Pac-12 begins, maintaining energy level is top concern
2013-01-03T00:00:00Z 2014-08-01T11:23:24Z Arizona basketball: Chemistry could be acid testBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 03, 2013 12:00 am  • 

In Sean Miller's eyes, Oregon is playing impressive defense. Stanford and California are veteran, well-coached teams. Colorado has gained respect with its nonconference play.

And talented UCLA may have the most upside of all the Pac-12 teams, the Arizona Wildcats coach says.

But there's one team that particularly concerns Miller as the Wildcats enter the Pac-12 season tonight against Colorado:

His own.

Yes, the Wildcats are 12-0 and third-ranked in the country. They have an enviable mix of size, talent and experience. They have the gumption to make a comeback and close out a win in the final seconds.

They also have the best-yet chemistry under Miller, and that's what scares him the most.

It's the New Year, the start of conference play. Yet, already, the Wildcats have been together nearly six months, counting their summertime workouts and exhibition trip to the Bahamas.

Things are not new anymore.

"It's not easy to lace 'em up in practice every day," Miller said. "Players tend to think more about the games and less about practice. You worry sometimes about how many points you are scoring, how you are playing individually as opposed to what's happening as a team. Sometimes guys can really get caught up in their own world."

Being 12-0 has made it easier for the Wildcats to be unselfish and care for each other so far, Miller said, because the team rewards are so great. But even that can be tested.

"You learn more when you lose one, but that's not our goal," Miller said. "We want to keep winning. But the longer a season goes on, the more team dynamics become a factor. It's not as easy to not play a lot as the season grows. It's harder to continue to practice in a competitive way in months of January and February. That shine has worn off."

To be clear, though, Miller said the Wildcats have not had that problem yet. It's just that he brought it up during his weekly news conference Tuesday as something of a preventative measure.

It was the first thing he said when asked what his concerns were moving forward, before he spoke of worries such as three-point percentage defense, turnovers and a need to feed the post more often.

"I'm only bringing that up because that's a real focus for us moving forward," Miller said. "If it had been a problem, I think you'd see we wouldn't be where we're at today. We've benefited from having a great attitude, being really together and ready to work hard. We hope and want to make sure that's what we do from now until our last game of the season."

Accountability may help accomplish that goal. Veterans Nick Johnson and Kevin Parrom pledged to help.

"That's where we come in," Johnson said of the UA veteran players. "When we see one guy or a few guys maybe off a little bit, we'll pull them back and say: 'We're the No. 3 team in the country, but we want to be No. 1, and we want to keep this success going.' We've gotta work that much harder."

Parrom said the goal is not just being No. 1 but also getting better every day, which is Miller's oft-stated focus.

"Coach doesn't allow us to get cocky with the rankings," Parrom said. "We still practice hard every day, so it doesn't matter what ranking we have. We know what the big goal is at the end of the season."

If they keep that mindset, Miller said, then they can put themselves in that mix of the top four or five teams in the Pac-12.

And maybe well beyond that.

"It's making sure that we're ready day in and day out, winning close games," Miller said. "That will determine who is the champion at the end, not just who has the most talent or who played well before conference play.

"We can always point toward that one team that just really catches fire once conference begins. Certainly UCLA is a candidate for that, and two years ago, we were that team. I think if you're optimistic about this team, if we could make that type of improvement in the next two months, we could really have something exciting."

On StarNet: Join the fun in a live fan chat during the Wildcats' game against Colorado at McKale Center live.azstarnet.com

Today

• Who: Colorado at No. 3 Arizona

• When: 6 p.m.

• TV: ESPNU

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

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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