Arizona basketball: York opening some eyes

UA guard Gabe York played in his first Pac-12 game Saturday against USC, but his work in practice lately has Sean Miller reconsidering his rotation.


After a successful business trip to Hawaii and three days of rest, the Arizona Wildcats go back to work in practice today.

It might be tempting just to kick back for a little while longer.

After all, the Wildcats are 12-0. They pulled out two close wins over ranked teams in the final seconds. Although UCLA beat Missouri on Friday to indicate the Bruins may yet become a factor in the Pac-12 race, the Wildcats still appear to be the clear-cut favorites in the conference.

Life is good.

So what do they really need to work on? UA coach Sean Miller can think of a few things.

"Obviously, we're trying to be a team that can do some special things so we want to be hard on ourselves," Miller said. "There's always things we can do better."

Some of them may be:

1. Taking care of the ball better

Although they had just eight turnovers against San Diego State in their Diamond Head Classic win last Tuesday, the Wildcats average 14.5 per game.

Miller said the Wildcats' ball-handling against the Aztecs made up for their 37.3 percent shooting, but he was concerned earlier in the Diamond Head Classic when they had 18 turnovers against East Tennessee State and 16 against Miami.

"There aren't many teams who are 11-0 who average 15 turnovers a game, so that's a weakness," Miller said after the Miami game. "We have to get better at it."

Point guard Mark Lyons also was not satisfied even with UA's ball-handling effort against San Diego State. He had three assists and three turnovers in that game.

"We've gotta still work on turnovers even though we were limited" against SDSU, he said.

2. Shooting more consistently

The Wildcats' three-point shooting has fluctuated between 25 percent and 50 percent, and the 25 percent mark was against San Diego State.

Arizona doesn't have a true go-to bomber, though the good thing is the Wildcats have a number of players who can get hot at any given time. Kevin Parrom has the best three-point percentage at 47.1 percent, and Grant Jerrett, Lyons and Solomon Hill are all clustered between 36 percent and 40 percent.

Miller did not blame the Wildcats' shooting effort against SDSU on shooting poorly.

"I don't think we had a bad shooting night," he said. "I think we played against a great defense. That's the difference. They make you earn shots."

More good news for UA is the fact that, even on an off night, the Wildcats can make up the difference on the boards; they are outrebounding opponents by an average of 10.1 per game.

3. Sharpening the defense

While it's hard to criticize a team that is allowing opponents to shoot only 38.9 percent, UA guard Nick Johnson said ball-screen defense has been a problem, and the Wildcats have been hurt inside overall.

SDSU outscored UA 36-26 in the paint, and Miller has indicated the Wildcats' young players inside still have a lot to learn.

"Our defense continues to improve because we have some younger players out there who are talented, and the more repetitions they get, the more they now know how hard they have to play," Miller said. "That's exciting to see because I think we have a chance to be an even better defensive team down the road than we are today."

4. Staying flexible in the backcourt

With Lyons in foul trouble against San Diego State, Miller turned not only to backup Jordin Mayes but also had Kevin Parrom at off guard while Johnson ran the point.

Miller said he did so because Parrom was playing well and because it would show the Aztecs another bigger look.

That may be an increasingly preferable option to Miller, who played Mayes only eight minutes against Florida and seven against SDSU.

5. Preparing for that target on their backs

As the favorite, the Wildcats figure to get everyone's best effort during the Pac-12 season and, on the road, they also are likely to draw the biggest, most vocal crowds.

Everyone will want to beat Arizona not only for the satisfaction but also for the RPI boost that doing so will offer.

However, Johnson said, "it's been like that all year already," so the Wildcats believe they are accustomed to it.

So does UA coach Sean Miller.

"I feel like since I've come to Arizona everybody respects our program, so it's not as if we showed up in the past and no one cared," Miller said. "I think it's more about how good we are, how ready we are and that's what we can control."

Rim shots

• Two Arizona basketball game times have been adjusted. The Jan. 12 game at Oregon State will start at 6 p.m. Tucson time and will be televised on ESPNU.

The Feb. 6 start against visiting Stanford will be at 7 p.m and on ESPN2.


Up Next

• What: Colorado at No. 3 Arizona

• When: 6 p.m. Thursday

• TV; radio: ESPNU; 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)