Arizona 90, Oregon 82: Cutting-edge season

In only second year on job, Miller guides Cats to Pac-10 title
2011-03-06T00:00:00Z 2014-07-24T10:00:27Z Arizona 90, Oregon 82: Cutting-edge seasonBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 06, 2011 12:00 am  • 

A few flaws surfaced Saturday, to be sure, but you could see them coming way back when the Arizona Wildcats began practice in October.

It was only the second year of coach Sean Miller's rebuilding job, after all. The relatively inexperienced Wildcats weren't supposed to win a Pac-10 Conference title, much less the title outright.

"No," Miller said.

But it happened Saturday when Arizona beat Oregon 90-82, effectively closing the door on all those turbulent transition years from the Lute Olson era since the Wildcats last won the conference title in 2005.

So, even if the defense leaks in the postseason ahead, even if the leads aren't protected, and even if standout Derrick Williams winds up in foul trouble during some postseason game, what happened Saturday at McKale Center will never be taken away from them.

Nobody will be able to erase the memories of giving senior Jamelle Horne the best possible goodbye after he played through the most difficult of those transition years.

Nobody will be able to forget climbing the ladder on the south side of McKale to snip the nets, with Miller plucking the last strands off the rim and tossing them into a giddy crowd of 14,605 fans who mostly refused to budge until 30 minutes after it all ended.

And nobody can take back the euphoric spur-of-the-moment trot the Wildcats took up and down the Zona Zoo student section, the sixth man with whom they finally bonded during the Pac-10 season after empty student seats marred their early-season games.

"We just followed MoMo," forward Solomon Hill said of MoMo Jones, the Wildcats' plucky sophomore point guard. "That was off his energy. He wanted to go through the Zona Zoo. He just ran off, and we followed him."

Maybe it was fitting.

All season, the Wildcats followed each other, without a clear-cut leader but with enough capable parts that they finished the regular season 25-6 and 14-4 in the Pac-10.

They do have one standout player in Williams, but, as Saturday's game proved, they can still function without him. Williams had 14 points and five rebounds in 22 minutes, off his season averages of 18.8 and 8.2, but the Wildcats had four other players scoring in double figures and 10 total with points.

Kyle Fogg led the way with 20 points, nailing three three-pointers in the first three minutes to set the pace, and he also finished the Ducks off with four free throws in the final minute.

Fogg wound up being one of six Wildcats averaging from 6.3 to 9.6 points during the regular season, all of them capable of hitting double figures in any game and supplementing the kind of performances from Williams that likely will make him the Pac-10 Player of the Year on Monday.

"I believe that everybody knows their role and last year we didn't know our roles," Williams said. "Sometimes you've got to give to get what you want. That's why we all sacrificed a little bit, whether it was Kevin (Parrom) coming off the bench, just everybody sacrificing a little bit, just to try to get that win. That's the main focus, just winning."

Although their nonconference schedule was somewhat softer than those during the height of the Olson era, the Wildcats won more games during the regular season than any UA team since 1999-2000.

They also extended their home-court winning streak to 19 games, dating to the final two last season, making the Wildcats the 26th and final team to go through Pac-10 play undefeated at home. The league expands to 12 next season by adding Colorado and Utah.

Meanwhile, the Wildcats also gave Miller a win or share of a conference title for the fourth time in the past five years, counting his success with Xavier in the Atlantic 10 Conference.

Miller guided those three championship Musketeer teams from 2006-07 through 2008-09 to six combined NCAA tournament wins, too. Whether he can have similar postseason success this season may depend on if his still-young Wildcats keep growing.

Arizona had trouble stopping opposing interior players for the fifth straight game, while Williams was twice whistled for offensive fouls while trying to drive inside emphatically for potential dunks.

"Anytime you're on national TV, you want a Top 10 (SportsCenter) dunk," Williams said, smiling. "That's what I was trying to do."

Hill said the Wildcats let what was a 17-point lead in the second-half shrink because they slipped defensively, noting that they also single-covered Oregon big-man Joevan Catron when they shouldn't have and paid dearly.

Catron led the Ducks with 28 points, connecting on four three-pointers while also hurting the Wildcats repeatedly inside. The last of his threes, with 5:41 left, cut Arizona's lead to 70-64.

The Ducks did not get closer than six the rest of the game, but there's no telling, with similar defense, what could happen in the postseason.

So even though the Wildcats will head into the Pac-10 Tournament next week as the No. 1 seed, in some ways, even with an unexpected championship in hand, it's like October all over again.

"To me, our quest of how the postseason goes, where we go from here, (is) what our defense can become," Miller said. "Can we regain some of what we've had for a long time, can we improve, can we address some things? If we can, then I think we can have a special month of March as well."

On StarNet: See more photos from Arizona's Pac-10 clinching win over Oregon at azstarnet.com/gallery

Back in business

12

Arizona won its 12th Pac-10 title Saturday - the most of any Pac-10 team since the 1978-79 expansion season.

Up next

• What: No. 1 Arizona vs. winner of No. 8 Stanford vs. No. 9 Oregon St.

• When: 3:30 p.m. Thursday

• TV: FSAZ

• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM

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