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Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Sta

No panic needed

For Solomon Hill and the Wildcats, the trip to Tempe could feel a bit different today, and not just because they and the Sun Devils are better.

At 15-1, the Wildcats probably don't have to worry much about getting into the NCAA tournament as they did when they played at Wells Fargo Arena last March 4 - and lost 87-80.

"We went up there, and it was do- or-die for us, and we didn't have the right mindset," Hill said. "We kind of tried to rush it (at ASU), and we probably had a chance to win the Pac-12 tournament (Arizona lost to Colorado in the final).

"But it shouldn't have to be like that. You should be able to take care of your business, probably drop a few games here and there, but still be able to lead your team to the NCAA tournament."

Tough rotation to crack

When UA coach Sean Miller was asked again this week about the limited playing time he's given Angelo Chol and Gabe York lately, you could almost see steam rise from his ears.

Miller has indicated repeatedly this season that he's dishing out minutes to the best players and that playing the ninth and 10th player on his roster would take away minutes from others - even though those guys are well-regarded.

"I'm not giving minutes to the guys who are undeserving," Miller said. "Angelo and Gabe do a really good job for us, and in a given year in a kid's career he may not play as much as maybe one day he does.

"But they're very, very important. In college, you can only play a certain number of players. No question we want to be a team of depth. I think everyone would put us in the category of having contributions from a number of players. But it's mid-January right now, and we play who we play."

Touched by a Devil

A long list of former Arizona Wildcats have been coached by ASU assistant coach Eric Musselman in the NBA.

Musselman served as head coach of the Golden State Warriors from 2002 to 2004, where he worked with Gilbert Arenas and Chris Mills, and was the head coach of the Kings in 2006-07 when Mike Bibby played in Sacramento.

Musselman has also served as an assistant with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Orlando Magic, Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies. He coached Damon Stoudamire while with the Grizzlies, Jason Terry with the Hawks, Miles Simon with the Magic.

All together now

After he was fired by the Kings in 2007, Musselman took a look around at college programs in Northern California and the teams who were preparing to play them.

He was particularly struck by how much attention to detail Herb Sendek had with ASU, when the Sun Devils prepared for a game at Cal.

"What stood out to me was that even when they did their stretching, they all put their right foot forward as a group," Musselman told the Arizona Republic. "Of all the shootarounds I attended, that one stood out."

Musselman also told the Republic that the pace and other things are different between the college and NBA games.

"My very first game at Golden State was against the Lakers during an exhibition game in Hawaii," Musselman said. "During the anthem, I looked down there, and there was Gary Payton, Kobe (Bryant), Shaq (O'Neal) and Karl Malone. As soon as the anthem was over, I looked at my assistant and said, 'Whatever prep we've done, it's not working.'"

Give him time

Sendek's cerebral reputation has been partially cemented by this fact: The Sun Devils are 19-8 over the past six years when the ASU coach has at least five full days to prepare between games, including the Sun Devils' 87-80 win over UA last season in Tempe.

In 2009-10 after long breaks, the Sun Devils beat San Diego State, No. 24 Washington and Arizona at McKale Center.

In 2008-09 the Sun Devils beat Arizona, BYU with Jimmer Fredette and, in the NCAA tournament, Temple. Sendek also beat Sean Miller's Xavier team by 22 points in December 2007 after a long break.

Don't look at him

Today's game is sold out. Even for Nick Johnson's friends.

The UA sophomore guard from Gilbert, right, said he isn't able to take care of everybody he knows at home.

"I pretty much told everybody in the Phoenix area, I have my main family," Johnson said. "If you want to get a ticket and go to the game, that's on you."

Besides, Johnson said, "It's not like it's a far drive down here so they've had plenty of time to get to one of these games."

Big leap forward

ASU forward Carrick Felix might be one of the Pac-12's most improved players this season, averaging 15.1 points and 8.1 rebounds while shooting 54.6 percent from the field and making nearly 40 percent of his three-pointers.

It's a process that began last spring.

"Carrick has had an outstanding year so far," Sendek said. "It really is a function of his habits and his daily approach. He's just been outstanding, starting with the end of last season and going all the way through the offseason with his leadership and doing everything the right way."

Arizona's leaders

The Wildcats' leaders in major stat categories:

14.6 points per game

Mark Lyons, G

31.6 minutes per game

Solomon Hill, F

3.3 assists per game

Mark Lyons, G

5.9 rebounds per game

Kaleb Tarczewski, C

2.3 steals per game

Nick Johnson, G

Arizona at Arizona State, 12:30 p.m. today, FSAZ, 1290-AM, 107.5-FM

He said it …

"They're much faster than a year ago, and that has a lot to do with Carson and their starting lineup. In transition, they're dangerous because their two, three and four can shoot it. We have a great deal of respect for Carson. He's very talented, fast, a confident player who believes in his game and likes to make big plays. Gordon can really shoot. Felix has been playing his best basketball yet. He's shooting very well from three and is capable of making plays off the dribble."

James Whitford, Arizona associate head coach who scouted the Sun Devils

He said it …

"They do a lot of things to put Bachynski in position to block shots. He stays under the basket, and they'll set a side screen where the guard forces you into the big guy. In the zone, he had to cover the corner from time to time, and you could control the offense to get him to cover the corner. They're a very good defensive team. They're good across the board, but it starts and ends with Bachynski."

James Whitford