When Arizona sends modest five-figure checks to Seattle Pacific and Humboldt State for showing up at McKale Center this preseason, the Wildcats may want to include a nice little thank-you note.
Because the efforts both Division II teams put up were exactly what the retooling Wildcats needed before opening their regular season Monday against Valparaiso.
Both Seattle Pacific and Humboldt State are rated among the Top 25 teams in Division II, with sound play and a sprinkling of Division I-caliber talent. Seattle Pacific beat UA 69-68 on Oct. 27, and Humboldt State led nearly all of the first half before losing 60-51 to the Wildcats on Tuesday.
"I'm grateful to both opponents because they were very organized and very talented," UA coach Sean Miller said. "They allowed us to learn more about our own team and get better as we approach Monday.
"I'm glad we played both of those teams, and I think we all recognize that our starting point isn't very high."
Here are three things the exhibition games allowed Miller and the Wildcats to do:
• To check their collective ego in the locker room.
Not only did the Wildcats have more than six months for everyone to tell them how great they were in reaching the NCAA Elite Eight last season but they were also coming off an intoxicating Red-Blue Game weekend, complete with appearances by former Wildcats in the NBA and an enthusiastic sold-out crowd.
The Red-Blue scrimmage was played just a week after official practices began and just five days before Seattle Pacific showed up.
"The pageantry was incredible," Miller said of the Red-Blue Game. "It wasn't just the game, it was the day before the game, and everything that went with them. Then it's almost like you walk out there and you say, 'Look, this is going to be easy.'
"Our new guys have no idea how hard it is to win, and we played against excellent teams. From that perspective, we all realized, 'Uh-oh, we have to get better.'"
That moment was never clearer than the final buzzer of the Seattle Pacific game, when a final UA possession failed, and the Falcons hugged each other giddily.
"Losing that game really helped put us in the right mind-set," senior forward Jesse Perry said. "Coming off the Red-Blue Game, a lot of guys felt confident, like we really did something but we didn't - we played against each other."
• To re-evaluate the rotation.
The emergence of talented freshmen such as guard Nick Johnson and forward Angelo Chol has Miller already rethinking how deep his rotation should be. It may not go the current 10-deep, even after forward Kevin Parrom returns from a gunshot wound.
"I'm not so sure playing 10 guys is the answer," he said. "One example: Nick Johnson. I love the way Nick's playing the game, and there's only so much you can do through 14 practices with two of these games. But I know this: Giving him a bigger role is going to help our team.
"Letting Angelo play some five is going to help our team. Maybe not playing one player who is playing now - at all - gives those guys a bigger role. So we're working ourselves through it. We have a competitive environment in practice, and it's going to be interesting to see how it will all shake out."
• To put the veterans on notice.
Miller has consistently supported his veteran starting core of forwards Perry, Solomon Hill and guard Kyle Fogg, but he's also looking for more from them.
Perry (five) and Hill (four) combined for nine turnovers against Humboldt State, and Fogg shot a collective 3 of 13 from the field in the two exhibition games.
Miller gave Perry somewhat of a pass Tuesday because he missed two practices over the weekend with a sore shoulder.
"Kyle, Solomon and Jesse, because of their experience and age they have to be really solid," Miller said. "I don't know (against Humboldt State) if I would put them in that category. I'm sure they would admit that."
On StarNet: Follow the Cats this season with Bruce Pascoe at: azstarnet.com/pascoe
Preview the Arizona Wildcats' 2011-12 season in the Star's annual special section.
• What: Valparaiso at Arizona
• When: 7 p.m. Monday
• TV; radio: ESPNU, 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)