The early-season tournaments came and went without Arizona, and maybe some underlying frustration set in for the Wildcats.
But they never did let rust set in.
In their first game since Nov. 19, the ninth-ranked Wildcats jumped to a 9-0 lead in just 102 seconds and cruised to a 93-50 win over NAU on Wednesday at McKale Center.
"We were definitely ready to come out and play," said guard Nick Johnson, who had 10 points and seven assists for the Wildcats. The break "was a little bit hard. We've been practicing a lot but just kept grinding out the days."
Johnson said the Wildcats' senior leadership kept the team especially motivated, and UA coach Sean Miller noted that senior guard Mark Lyons wore the gold jersey for making the most overall contributions in practice - and Lyons followed that up by leading the Wildcats in scoring with 18 points.
"It was good to see him play that well in practice, being one of the oldest players," Miller said.
Lyons and Johnson, who had just one turnover to his seven assists, wound up setting a pace that the undermanned Lumberjacks never could threaten.
After focusing on three-point shooting defense during the break, the Wildcats came up with their best perimeter defensive effort of the season so far - allowing NAU to make just 5 of 17 three-point attempts.
The Wildcats also, especially in the second half, took advantage of their size advantage to out-rebound the Lumberjacks 39-27. And, while NAU focused much of its defensive effort on the Wildcats' big men, UA took advantage by sinking 12 of 21 three-point shots.
So while starting post players Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley combined for just eight points, Solomon Hill and Lyons each hit three three-pointers, and Kevin Parrom and Jordin Mayes made two each.
"NAU did a good job on our big guys and what that did was give us an opportunity to spread the floor," Miller said.
The Wildcats put the game completely away with 5:16 left when Parrom made a layup, but, in truth, they were never really challenged. Up 39-26 at halftime, the Wildcats took a 20-point lead three minutes into the second half and held a 32-point lead with nine minutes left.
In the first half, the Wildcats held NAU to just 2 of 6 three-point shooting - until the final second when they gave up a three-pointer to NAU freshman DeWayne Russell. Russell popped wide open at the top of the key via screens and hit the shot at the buzzer.
If there was any further motivation the Wildcats needed, Russell's shot may have been it. The Wildcats went into halftime angry and then forced four NAU turnovers in the first four minutes of the second half to expand their lead to 53-30.
"It definitely got us to realize we've gotta keep on playing," Johnson said.
Lyons and Johnson led the Wildcats in the first half. Lyons scored eight points and two assists, and Johnson notched seven points and four assists.
Arizona took a 9-0 lead early behind a three-pointer from Solomon Hill and a steal that Johnson turned into a dunk. The Wildcats then went up 15-4 after Ashley sank a 14-foot jump shot and Lyons converted a three-point play.
Miller said the Wildcats defense was much better in the second half and, after it was all over, said the long layoff actually worked out pretty well. The Wildcats had a chance to work on things as if it were the preseason again, before a warmup against NAU and now a road game at Texas Tech on Saturday.
"You could tell guys were getting anxious to play a game," Miller said. "But we played well tonight. I hope it was a healthy length of time, and it makes players appreciate the game. It makes guys hungry."
• What: No. 9 Arizona at Texas Tech
• When: 6 p.m. Saturday
• TV: ESPNU
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM