SALT LAKE CITY - After the Arizona Wildcats flew into the same Salt Lake airport they visited a month ago, they checked into the same Marriott hotel they had already visited twice in the past three seasons.
On Wednesday, after eating yet another meal in the Marriott ballroom, they practiced at the same arena (Utah's Huntsman Center), where they have practiced and played games over the past two seasons. Then they drove down for interviews and a public scrimmage at the same arena (EnergySolutions Arena) where they faced BYU two seasons ago.
In that 87-65 loss on Dec. 11, 2010, Arizona even faced the kind of nightmarishly good shooter (Jimmer Fredette) that they just might see in Belmont's Ian Clark during their NCAA tournament opener today at EnergySolutions.
"Hopefully there's not a Jimmer Fredette on the floor," forward Solomon Hill said. "If there is, I hope he's on our side of the court."
So it's the same. It's the NCAA tournament, with the exponentially higher level of importance, but for Arizona a lot is the same.
"I think it makes a big difference," Miller said. "We're grateful to be in Salt Lake City. The fact that Utah is in our conference's footprint … there is familiarity and most importantly I'm glad our fans don't have to travel across the country."
Belmont coach Rick Byrd said those kinds of intangible factors are hard to quantify, but figured it just might help the Wildcats.
"I'm sure there's some" factor, he said. "Anytime you're more comfortable, I think you've got a better chance to play well."
For Miller, familiarity and comfort are not about being boring or unadventurous. It's about routine and consistency, doing the same things off the court as on it, from October until March.
The way he explained it, that routine may be a reason why he has never yet lost to a lesser-seeded team in the NCAA tournament, through five tournaments with Xavier and one with Arizona in 2010-11.
"The one thing that did stand out was we were ourselves," Miller said of his three Xavier Sweet 16 teams. "The things we did well during the season that we learned to make as part of our overall identity, those things didn't change once we entered the tournament. We were able to establish those same strengths."
When things aren't the same, when they suddenly appear larger than life in the NCAA tournament, Miller says that's when things can go wrong.
"Sometimes in this tournament, game pressure in the moment becomes so big that you can deviate," Miller said. "Players do things that they haven't done. Teams take on almost a different personality, and (with Xavier's teams) the personality of our teams remained the same."
One of the players on those Xavier teams, Mark Lyons, happens to be Arizona's point guard this season. So even though Lyons has clearly relished his time in the clutch this season, he wasn't about to ratchet anything up more than usual this week.
Experience tells him that's a dangerous thing to do.
"The thing you don't want to do is make games bigger than they are," Lyons said. "You gotta take every game seriously, but you don't want to make it bigger than they are because that's when people won't shoot their shot or don't want to make plays because they don't want to mess up."
Even UA freshman forward Grant Jerrett, a rookie to all this NCAA tournament stuff, has received the message. He said the week leading up to today's game has been about "the same old stuff that we usually do."
But, of course, none of this is to confuse routine and familiarity with excitement. Underneath it all, Jerrett can't wait.
"It's really exciting," Jerrett said. "I've been watching (the NCAA tournament) as long as I can remember."
Truth be told, the same excitement goes for senior Kevin Parrom. He said what really mattered was getting a good night's rest so he can go out and play.
Wherever that rest occurs.
"I love the Marriott," he said. "But we could have stayed at the Motel 6. I don't really care."
More on StarNet
• Find our basket-by-basket breakdown of Arizona's season on Page B10 and digitally at azstarnet.com/ArizonaStats
• Follow the Star's live blog from the NCAA tournament West Region in Salt Lake City, then stick around to join in the live chat. Comments will open during the game, all at live.azstarnet.com
Sean Miller's NCAA tournament history
• First round: No. 3 Gonzaga 79, No. 14 Xavier 75, Salt Lake City
• First round: No. 9 Xavier 79, No. 8 BYU 77, Lexington, Ky.
• Second round: No. 1 Ohio State 78, No. 9 Xavier 71, overtime, Lexington, Ky.
• First round: No. 3 Xavier 73, No. 14 Georgia 61, Washington, D.C.
• Second round: No. 3 Xavier 85, No. 6 Purdue 78, Washington, D.C.
• Sweet 16: No. 3 Xavier 79, No. 7 West Virginia 75, Phoenix
• Elite Eight: No. 1 UCLA 76, No. 3 Xavier 57, Phoenix
• First round: No. 4 Xavier 77, No. 13 Portland State 59, Boise, Idaho
• Second round: No. 4 Xavier 60, No. 12 Wisconsin 49, Boise, Idaho
• Sweet 16: No. 1 Pittsburgh 60, No. 4 Xavier 55, Boston
• Second round: No. 5 Arizona 77, No. 12 Memphis 75, Tulsa, Okla.
• Third round: No. 5 Arizona 70, No. 4 Texas 69, Tulsa, Okla.
• Sweet 16: No. 5 Arizona 93, No. 1 Duke 77, Anaheim, Calif.
• Elite Eight: No. 3 Connecticut 65, No. 5 Arizona 63, Anaheim, Calif.
• West Region, second round: No. 6 Arizona vs. No. 11 Belmont
• Where: Salt Lake City
• When: 4:20 p.m.
• TV; radio: TNT; 1290-AM, 107.5-FM
Contact reporter Bruce Pascoe at 573-4145 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @brucepascoe