You could say the Arizona Wildcats have essentially been warming up for four months now.
There was the exhibition trip to the Bahamas in August. Some limited preseason work in September. Then seven weeks of full practices in October and November, plus two exhibition and four regular-season home games that all turned into easy victories.
Now it gets a little tougher, or at least the pace will pick up. The ninth-ranked Wildcats will travel to face Texas Tech on Saturday, then return home to face unbeaten Southern Mississippi on Tuesday - before flying cross country to play at Clemson on Dec. 8.
Also, there's that top-10 showdown with Florida on Dec. 15 at McKale Center and the Dec. 22-25 Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu.
"Now we move into a different phase in our schedule," coach Sean Miller said Wednesday, after UA crushed NAU 93-50. "We've gotten through this stretch in November, and December represents more games, higher competition, and five of the games are going to be away from McKale."
There's little doubt that the Wildcats are ready for such a test, however.
They have beaten their four regular-season opponents by an average of 23.7 points while all five of their newcomers are generally performing as advertised, with Xavier transfer Mark Lyons (14.0 points per game) and freshman forward Brandon Ashley (10.8) among the team's top three scorers. Ashley is also by far the team's top rebounder, at 8.5 per game.
But just in case there are any jitters with the young guys, UA should have some veteran guidance. Five returnees played roles in the Wildcats' road wins at St. John's and New Mexico State, and during their sweep at California and Stanford last season, while seniors Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom, plus junior guard Jordin Mayes, were also a part of UA's 2011 Elite Eight team.
"We've had great moments the last few years on the road," Miller said. "Jordin, Kevin, Solomon and Nick (Johnson), they were a part of that, and certainly Mark Lyons has had a lot of success on the road as a player. So we'll rely a lot on Saturday on our veterans' play and talk and leadership. With the freshmen, no matter how much they think they're ready, playing on the road is different."
The road experience worked out pretty well early last season for Johnson, however. As a freshman, Johnson went into New York and held his own against St. John's and Mississippi State. Then he was the Wildcats' leading scorer at New Mexico State and handled point guard capably at Florida when Josiah Turner was suspended for the first time.
Johnson and Miller both credited Johnson's experience at powerhouse Findlay Prep for preparing him well early last season, and Ashley did the same in a different way Wednesday.
While Ashley went just 1 for 4 from the field against NAU, he said he learned at Findlay that scoring wasn't the only way to make an impact when he's surrounded by talent. So Ashley went out and collected 11 rebounds while dishing three assists, blocking three shots and turning the ball over only once.
"Me going off to prep school, that helped me out, and in coming to this team where there's a lot of talented players," Ashley said. "I know I'm not going to have the best offensive night every night, but I still need to perform well."
Considering how NAU crowded and fronted the post, trying to frustrate Ashley and UA's other big men, Miller was happy to see it.
"I wish he had gotten more shots. but from my perspective, Northern Arizona did a job of trying to hide their height disadvantage," Miller said. "But our big guys are unselfish. (Wednesday) wasn't his night offensively, but to his credit he played really well."
Now, Ashley says he's excited to get a chance to prove himself on the road and Johnson, not surprisingly, is ready, too.
"I'm excited," Johnson said. "Last year, when we won on the road, it was the most exciting feeling of the season."
• What: No. 9 Arizona at Texas Tech
• When: 6 p.m. Saturday
• TV: ESPNU
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM
Arizona's leaders through November (by average per game or percentage)
F Solomon Hill and G Mark Lyons
F Brandon Ashley (2.75 offensive per game)
G Nick Johnson (5:1 assist-to-turnover ratio)
.688 field goals
G/F Kevin Parrom (11-of-16 shooting)
G/F Kevin Parrom (9-of-14 shooting)