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Conjuring up McKale's mystique

Undefeated at home, UA wants to restore arena's dominant aura
2011-01-06T00:00:00Z 2014-07-24T09:53:00Z Conjuring up McKale's mystiqueBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 06, 2011 12:00 am  • 

The first time MoMo Jones entered the cramped visitors locker room at McKale Center, where the Wildcats were forced to live the first half of this season, he flipped open an old metal door and gashed his finger.

"I was like, 'This is not going to be good,'" Jones said.

But now, with the Wildcats this week having moved back into a completely renovated locker room, the visitors locker room is perfect … for visitors.

The Wildcats get multidirectional showerheads, three TVs, a state-of-the-art sound system, wooden locker stalls, a kitchen and new furniture.

Their opponents get claustrophobia and, the Wildcats hope, a bit of depression from what just happened on the floor.

"Our mindset is winning at home," Jones said. "People are not going to want to come in and play at McKale and then go into that locker room. (They'll say) 'Really, when is the plane leaving?'"

Of course, the Wildcats have only the last part of that equation fully taken care of. California may not enjoy the visitors locker room tonight during its game with Arizona at McKale Center, but there's no guarantee the Bears won't have fun on the court.

Arizona's 71-game home-court winning streak ended nearly two decades ago, and the Wildcats - while still strong against an improved Pac-10 conference during the remainder of the Lute Olson era - have not been completely invincible at home since then.

Arizona was 8-0 in nonconference play this season at home, but the Wildcats have averaged 3.5 home losses in Pac-10 play over the last three-plus seasons.

Some of that may come from the mindset of players who simply prefer playing in an adverse road environment, as Jones and fellow New Yorker Kevin Parrom say they do.

"I've always loved to play on the road," Jones said. "It's always going to be a challenge to play somewhere else rather than at home because we can get down a couple of baskets (at home), and our fans are going to hype us up, and we want to please them. Whereas on the road, everybody is against us, and you want to kind of shut everybody up."

But the main reason, the way UA coach Sean Miller describes it, is that the Wildcats have not fully defended their home court.

"We talk a lot about recreating how hard it was to win at McKale," Miller said. "Great programs, and those teams who have great seasons … with few exceptions they were dominant at home, taking advantage of a great crowd and great student section."

Miller joked that it was "about 100 years ago" when he played for Pitt against Arizona at McKale, but he still remembers the pit in his stomach that doing so created. Miller's Panthers lost games at McKale in 1988-89 and 1991-92 by an average of 23 points.

"I do remember how it felt walking in as a visitor in this arena," Miller said. "Part of the identity of our program moving forward is we want to be that hard-playing team and that team that's really hard to beat at home, to make it feel like coming here is not a fun thing."

Miller said the Wildcats still are not "anywhere near where I hope we're going to one day return to," but that a key objective this season is to become better at home.

Last season, the Wildcats lost five games at home and three in the Pac-10, including a 63-55 loss to Oregon State that Miller called the "rock bottom" of his coaching career.

This season, the Wildcats cruised through nonconference home play undefeated and are expected to compete for second place in the Pac-10 behind Washington. But the Huskies lost at McKale Center last season with much the same team and also suffered a blow Wednesday when they announced guard Abdul Gaddy is out for the season with a torn ACL.

So, maybe, a McKale run-of-the-table is possible. Or at least something close to it.

"Home-court dominance - that's what Coach has preached," Jones said.

"We want to be a team that when people say, 'We gotta go to Arizona,' it's that feeling you get that you don't want to play here. … That it's kind of like, 'When is this game going to be over with?' That's the message we want to send to people."

Cookin' at home

Arizona's record at McKale Center over the previous decade:

Year Overall Pac-10

2010-11* 8-0 0-0

2009-10 11-5 6-3

2008-09 14-3 7-2

2007-08** 11-6 4-5

2006-07 11-5 5-4

2005-06 12-2 7-2

2004-05 15-1 8-1

2003-04 13-2 7-2

2002-03 14-1 8-1

2001-02 9-4 7-2

2000-01 13-2 8-1

*To date

**The 11 home wins were vacated because of NCAA sanctions, and UA's record in 2007-08 is now listed officially as 0-6 overall and 0-5 in the Pac-10.

TODAY

• What: California at Arizona

• When: 8:30 p.m.

• TV: FSAZ

• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)

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