If you apply some transitive basketball properties, you can still make a case for Arizona being the best team in the Pac-12.

So let's see, Oregon lost to UTEP, which lost to Tulsa, which lost to Cal-Northridge, which lost to USC, which lost to Arizona.

Or maybe, UCLA lost to San Diego State, which lost to Syracuse, which lost to Temple, which lost to Duke, which lost to Miami, which lost to Arizona.

Don't you feel better already?

Any way you mix it, it's Jan. 27, and Arizona is probably halfway through the 2012-13 season. Every team with a reasonable claim to the Final Four has been nicked up and beaten down.

In 48 hours, Arizona went from sky-is-falling freakiness against UCLA to a cleansing 74-50 victory over USC, proof of the recuperative powers of college hoops in January.

"We're 17-2, and we're happy where we are right now," UA freshman center Kaleb Tarczewski said after Saturday's win. "We're a great team. We obviously have a lot to improve on, but we have time, and we're honoring the process."

Great isn't a word that deserves to get tossed around in college basketball these days, not in the days of underclassmen-dominated national champions. After 19 games, you could rightfully argue that Arizona is really good with a chance to be really, really good by March.

If Sean Miller accomplished one thing between Thursday night and Saturday afternoon, it was not to freak out himself, or show his players that losing to UCLA was more than just 40 minutes in January.

Plenty of others in the greater Tucson basketball audience did the freaking out for him.

Two hours before Saturday's tip, UA senior Kevin Parrom punched up a Twitter message that put things in perspective.

"To our fans," he wrote to 6,149 followers, "JUST KEEP CALM."

Saturday's outcome, and the emphatic way Arizona shut down the rudderless USC basketball ship in every conceivable way, was predictable.

UCLA has won in Tucson six times the last 25 years, and four times the Trojans had the unwitting misfortune to be next on the McKale Center calendar. Arizona won those games 101-77, 94-73, 74-63 and last night, even though the margin was 24, it could've been 40.

There is a price to pay for losing a Big Game, and it's not always paid by the losing team. In this series, Arizona-USC, the Trojans frequently pay the bill.

College basketball has become such a fragile society, overflowing with weekly upset specials on the 10 o'clock news, that you almost get worn out by the Cinderella story angles.

Butler beats Gonzaga in a finish for the ages a week ago, and then loses in similar style at LaSalle a few days later.

Louisville soars to No. 1 and then gets creamed by Syracuse, Georgetown and Villanova in what seems like three days.

UCLA rises from the ashes, stuns Arizona and then gets caught sleepwalking at Arizona State, embarrassed by a lack of willfulness.

"It's not very easy at all to leave a disappointing loss like we had against UCLA," Miller said Saturday night. "When it doesn't go your way, sometimes it can lead into the next game, or the next day, especially in today's world with so many outside forces pulling your team apart."

Miller didn't check the Tucson sky for falling particles Friday. Instead, he watched video lowlights of the UCLA game six times. Can you imagine how long that must have taken? Six times?

He is such a stickler, such a perfectionist, that before he moves on he must first understand what went wrong the night before. Suitably educated on the breakdowns against UCLA, Miller found what he called "a silver lining."

"Believe me, nobody in our locker room felt very good after Thursday," he said. "We disappointed a lot of fans, 14,000 people in white. Our response was to get back and try to be as good as we can be" against USC.

Miller's team played hard against the Bruins but harder against the Trojans. The Wildcats simply didn't play well on Thursday - "we missed five point blank shots in the first five minutes," he lamented - and then put it behind him the way Duke clearly put its 27-point loss at Miami behind it, returning Saturday to rip Maryland by 20.

"Big picture-wise," Miller said Saturday, "we leave this game feeling good about ourselves."

In his final coaching year at Xavier, Miller's 2008-09 team opened 20-2 and then lost three of four to, of all teams, Charlotte, Duquesne and Dayton. It was a Xavier team coming off the Elite 8, one whose fan base almost croaked at the Musketeers' mid-season wobble.

Not one to panic, Miller gathered his club and guided the '09 Muskies to the Sweet 16. Everyone forgot about that 20-2 start the way Arizona fans will soon forget the Wildcats were at one time 16-1.

In a lot of ways, the season starts now. Isn't college basketball fun?

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com