Sean Miller


With a Los Angeles road swing this week that could determine the Pac-12 race, the No. 11 Arizona Wildcats have plenty reason for focus when they head to the airport this afternoon.

But that alone won't be enough to ease UA coach Sean Miller's concerns.

With a team that he says lacks the "offensive firepower" to win consistently, the Wildcats must have an all-out, all-the-time defensive mentality.

Not just wait for a couple of big games. Nor allow anybody to shoot better than 50 percent in the second half, as Washington State, Colorado and California have all done in recent games.

"When you talk about going to L.A. and playing teams like USC and UCLA, you don't all of a sudden get on an airplane and say 'OK, we're going to do it,'" Miller said. "It's either part of your makeup or it isn't. When you pick and choose in a game, that really sets the tone how you're going to be once get to these games in L.A."

Miller said the only thing UA can do is continue to discuss what happened Saturday against Washington State, when the Cougars shot 52.2 percent from the field in the second half while making the Wildcats' 73-56 win closer than it might have been.

It's "the word 'endure' - where you can't be good for half of the game or most of the game," Miller said. "That takes exceptional effort and concentration.

"What we're after is significant. But if we do it, and we've shown we can, that's when I feel we have a chance to compete for something extraordinary."

Arizona is ranked fourth in defensive field goal percentage in Pac-12 games (41.8 percent), though it is 10th in three-point percentage defense (36.3 percent) even after holding Washington to 1-for-11 three-point shooting on Feb. 20.

Defensive field-goal percentage isn't the only tangible way to see how the Wildcats' defense has broken down, either.

In the Wildcats' past 10 games, they have had more fouls in the second half than the first, despite almost always avoiding late-game fouling situations.

Over the last four games, the trend has become even worse: UA had a collective 25 first-half fouls against Colorado, Utah, Washington and Washington State - but 43 in the second halves of those games.

"If you look at our fouling first half against second half, it's night and day," Miller said. "We have to learn down the home stretch to just play with more defensive durability and be able to do it longer … just endure and be good the whole game."

While Miller said the Wildcats have committed fouls for all sorts of reasons - among them, being overly aggressive on the ball, or dealing with screens improperly- the bottom line to him was defensive effort and focus.

"We'll reach once in a while, which isn't good," Miller said. "Some of our younger players are still learning positioning. They'll foul sometimes just because of a lack of experience.

"But generally when you foul a lot, you're out of position or just late. The reason we've been late is we weren't as locked in as we were in the first half."

Rim shots

• Guard Mark Lyons was scheduled to practice Monday after recovering from an illness that limited him against WSU, Miller said. "He got through it OK, and I think he'll be fine," Miller said.

• Former Wildcat standout Derrick Williams was not scheduled to visit the team while in town for his store opening, but Miller said Williams might take in the UA-USC game because Williams will be in Los Angeles before the Timberwolves face the Lakers on Thursday.

• Arizona moved up one spot to No. 11 in both the AP and ESPN/USA Today Top 25 polls on Monday.

• Cal's Justin Cobbs was named the Pac-12's Player of the Week, the third straight week a Cal player has won the award.

Up next

• Who: No. 11 Arizona at USC

• When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

• TV: Pac-12 Arizona

• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM