When his team lost to UCLA on Jan. 24 to fall two games behind then-unbeaten Oregon in the Pac-12 race, Arizona Wildcats coach Sean Miller offered some perspective.

"I don't think the conference champion is only going to have two losses," he said.

Two weeks later, Oregon already has three. And as a result, the Wildcats are suddenly alone in first place in the Pac-12.

Arizona is 8-2 in conference play, a game ahead of Oregon, UCLA and ASU after Oregon lost to Colorado on Thursday. The Wildcats are also three games ahead of a five-way scrum at fifth place that includes California, which will play Arizona at 5 p.m. on Sunday.

Not surprisingly, during a brief interview Friday, Miller spoke with the same levelheadedness that he had after that UCLA loss.

Not too up. Not too down.

"Two weeks ago, we were two games off the mark and I think a lot of people can panic," Miller said. "But there was a lot of basketball left and it's so much about giving ourselves the best chance. The word that we use a lot is 'compete.' That's what we want to do.

"There's no given we can win the championship," the coach added, "but we want to be one of those teams that's vying for it, and maybe as we approach March we're in contention to do that."

Miller said part of the reason he figured the Pac-12 champ would have more than two losses is that the league is stronger in the middle and bottom than past years, as evidenced by the five-way tie for fifth place that includes several teams who have a chance at the NCAA tournament.

"The quality and depth of our conference rivals every conference except the Big Ten," Miller said. "Clearly that's the strongest conference in the country, hands down. But one of their reasons their conference is so good is they have such quality. It's not just the best teams but the teams that will finish near the middle or the bottom that makes them good.

"I think our conference is the same from the perspective that we have more depth and more balance than we've ever had."

Jerrett practicing

Forward Grant Jerrett was scheduled to practice in limited drills Friday and might play Sunday against Cal.

Jerrett did not play Wednesday against Stanford because of what Miller has described as a low-grade stress reaction in his left foot, but Miller said the freshman has been making progress. Jerrett will play Sunday if he can continue to practice today and in Sunday's pregame shootaround without pain, Miller said.

"We fully expect Grant to rejoin us for the long haul and have the same or similar role that he's always had," Miller said.

"It's just that we wanted to make sure initially that we knew exactly what was going on with his foot, and that the pain that he would have would start to decrease, which it has."

Meanwhile, Miller said guard Nick Johnson was fully healthy after a virus limited him last Saturday at Washington State and Wednesday against Stanford.

Lineup uncertain

Stating he's still "unprepared" to say if he will use a different starting lineup that includes Kevin Parrom on Sunday, Miller is torn by two factors:

The Wildcats have started slowly in three of their past five games - but they are also 18-1 with the current lineup.

"There's a reason those five guys start: They've earned it," Miller said. "The only way they won't continue to earn it is in that performance in the first war, the first period of time" before the first media time out.

During the one game Miller did start Parrom, the Wildcats lost at Oregon while Parrom struggled with foul trouble. But the Wildcats have started slowly against UCLA, Washington and Stanford, losing to the Bruins while trailing both the Huskies and Cardinal at halftime before winning.

"I'm going big picture," Miller said. "I think I have the answer that those guys have done very well through the course of a season. But recently they have not, and we have to address it."

More time

Arizona took Thursday off before resuming practices Friday to prepare for Cal, having been scheduled with an unusual four-day spread between facing the Cardinal and Bears.

"It's something new," forward Solomon Hill said, but added that "it's never really a day off. It gives us an extra day to prepare."

California, meanwhile, stayed in Tempe until early Friday afternoon, then traveled to Tucson.

On StarNet: Keep up with the UA basketball team on Bruce Pascoe's blog at azstarnet.com/pascoe

Up next

• What: California at No. 7 Arizona

• When: 5 p.m. Sunday

• TV; radio: Pac-12 Arizona; 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)