The Arizona Wildcats are taking their first Pac-12 road swing this weekend, and you might say they couldn’t be more ready.
The Wildcats are led by a nervy, veteran backcourt and are powered inside by a precocious bunch of freshmen and sophomores.
They won two true road games over well-regarded opponents in hostile environments, at San Diego State and at Michigan, while also sweeping neutral site games with Drexel and Duke in the NIT Season Tip-Off.
And, factoring in their stiffer quality of competition they have faced away from McKale Center, their statistical production has been almost comparable across the board.
Just the way UA coach Sean Miller likes it.
“All coaches feel this way: You want to do the things you do well, whether you’re at home or on the road,” he said. “You don’t want to be a different team when you’re not playing at home. To this point, this year, we’ve had that. That doesn’t mean it’s going to continue, but it’s the key to us playing on the road.”
But that trend will be subject this weekend to what has been the Wildcats’ roughest road swing of the Pac-12 under Miller: They’re heading to Los Angeles.
UA hasn’t won at UCLA since Miller’s first season of 2009-10, even losing 65-58 to the Bruins in Anaheim, Calif., when UCLA was temporarily displaced during the Pauley Pavilion renovations in 2011-12.
“The trip in and of itself has historically been difficult,” Miller said. “So for us, we’re looking at it as a great challenge, starting against UCLA.”
While USC is rebuilding this season under first-year coach Andy Enfield, the Trojans haven’t been an easy out over the years at the Galen Center, either. The Wildcats were 1-2 against former UA interim coach Kevin O’Neill at USC and also lost to the Trojans last season under interim USC coach Bob Cantu.
However, that Feb. 27 loss to USC preceded a five-point loss at UCLA on March 2 that, even despite the final score, was cited as a turning point toward the Wildcats’ late-season finish. UA went on to defeat ASU by 15 points at McKale Center, then reached the Pac-12 tournament semifinals and eventually the NCAA Sweet 16.
The USC game “was a tough loss,” center Kaleb Tarczewski said. “We really knew that we needed to play our best basketball the rest of the season to get where we wanted to go. From there, we knew what we had to do. We definitely played better after that trip.”