Arizona basketball: Hawaii wins top Christmas list

Miller says Wildcats also plan on enjoying holiday, island vibes
2012-12-20T00:00:00Z 2012-12-20T06:57:21Z Arizona basketball: Hawaii wins top Christmas listBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 20, 2012 12:00 am  • 

The way the ever-focused Arizona Wildcats have been going this season, you might expect they will treat this weekend like some sort of management conference in Iowa.

A date with East Tennessee State on Saturday in Honolulu, a chance to put away those ghosts from that 1992 NCAA tournament loss? Sure.

Uptrending Miami, maybe, in the second round of the Diamond Head Classic? Check.

And possibly even San Diego State in the championship? Game on.

Except, the way UA coach Sean Miller looks at it, there's gotta be more to this story.

It is Hawaii, after all. And it is the holidays.

It's business, and maybe a little pleasure.

"It's a funny thing because, man, it's Christmas," Miller said after UA dispatched Oral Roberts 89-64 on Tuesday at McKale Center. "I think we have to keep our minds on those sights. I'd like to say this is war or business or whatever, but it's still Christmas. Christmas Eve (we'll) be there, and Christmas Day we're playing.

"What we want to do is enjoy each other and enjoy the fact that we're in Hawaii, the holiday season … and make the most of that opportunity and try to win every game."

Maybe the Wildcats have earned a bit of playtime. Arizona has passed nearly every mental test they have had en route to a 9-0 start, winning by an average of 18.8 points.

That included a one-point win over Florida on Saturday, and the destruction of Oral Roberts on Tuesday in what could have been a letdown situation between beating the Gators and heading over the Pacific.

Senior forward Solomon Hill said it was "kind of hard to get guys refocused" after the Florida game, but the Wildcats figured out a way to do it.

Looking at the past may have helped.

"Beating Florida, you can't be happy," Hill said. "It's not like we won the national championship game. We still have a lot of games ahead of us. We still have Pac-12 coming up and our Hawaii tournament.

"When Florida beat us last year, I'm pretty sure they didn't celebrate; they kept it going and made it to the Elite Eight. It's all about preparation."

The Wildcats just have to make sure they prepare a little differently than the last time they went to a warm place with a beach, their two-game exhibition trip to the Bahamas in August.

"It'll be a lot different," freshman forward Grant Jerrett said. "The Bahamas was the first time we played together and traveled together. But these first nine games have helped us chemistry-wise."

They may need to draw from that experience. While it isn't as feared as the Maui Invitational, the ESPN-owned Diamond Head Classic has assembled a respectable field.

The Wildcats will be heavy favorites Saturday to beat East Tennessee State, which lost Tuesday to Charleston Southern - the team UA beat in the season opener.

But after that comes either host Hawaii or surging Miami (Fla.), which has won six straight games, including a 67-59 win over Michigan State on Nov. 28 and a 72-50 thrashing of Central Florida on Tuesday.

The Wildcats could also face the 18th-ranked Aztecs in the championship game.

"It's a very understated field," Miller said. "I've heard people describe it as if almost there's no heavyweights. Miami is playing great; I know in the preseason they were right there at the top of the ACC. I don't have to tell anyone about San Diego State - to me they've been the best program in the West for the last seven years, them and Gonzaga.

"It starts to prepare us for tournament play, and guys understand the quick turnaround and how it's so much more about us being ready to play as opposed to who we're playing. We'll learn a lot while we're there."

On StarNet: Follow the Cats on Bruce Pascoe's blog at azstarnet.com/pascoe

Up next

• What: Arizona vs. East Tennessee St. in the Diamond Head Classic

• Where: Honolulu

• When: 8:30 p.m. Saturday

• TV: ESPNU

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