LOS ANGELES – In the early decades of Arizona basketball, just about anything, anywhere counted.
You beat the Bisbee YMCA? Count it.
Winslow High School? Sure.
Sunset Dairy? Yes, it sponsored some sort of team. Good enough.
So it was, then, that when the Wildcats set the school record for fastest ever start in 1931-32, their 16-0 record included two-game sweeps of Dixie Junior College and the UA Alumni All-Stars, plus a one-game showdown against a club team known as the Phoenix Ramblers.
Tonight that can all go away from the UA record books, erased by real top-division college games.
Arizona is 16-0 heading into tonight’s game at USC, where the Wildcats are expected to set a new school record by beating the rebuilding Trojans, who were blown out in their first two Pac-12 games under new coach Andy Enfield.
They should be 17-0. The best ever Wildcat start, modern era, or any era.
But the way UA coach Sean Miller is trying to approach it, the Wildcats will really be just 1-0. As in, beating USC is all that matters. And after that game, the Cats will move on to Thursday’s contest against ASU.
That one-day-at-a-time mentality, Miller says, is a big reason why the Wildcats are in a position to set the record in the first place.
Small picture. Then big picture.
“We don’t talk a lot about the record,” Miller said Saturday, before UA practiced at USC. “Whether we lost or won a game, that’s behind us, we can’t do anything about that.
“I think the approach our team has taken is a good one – staying (with a mindset that) today’s important, tomorrow’s important, be ready for every game. And with very, very few exceptions through our first 16 games, we’ve been ready. Even when teams have played well against us, a lot of times it’s just been because they played well.”
On a personal level, Miller has a particular reason to stay focused today. He knows what USC can do.
The Trojans’ two biggest wins this season are against none other than Dayton, where Miller’s brother, Archie, is the head coach, and Xavier, Miller’s old team.
“Looking at some of the teams they played and how they performed, they’ve played some really good basketball,” Miller said. “They’re beating Dayton at Dayton, beating Xavier in the Bahamas and I know how hard that is to do. I think they’re much better than they’ve shown here early on.”
Well, that’s the way Enfield might like to look at it.
The Trojans shot just 36 percent in a 19-point loss to ASU on Thursday, making shot selections that Enfield was not wild about.
USC finished 9-4 in nonconference play with wins that also included one over Boston College.
“We had a very good out-of-conference” season, Enfield said. “We are off to a slow start in our first two games, which is a little surprising — not necessarily in the wins and losses, but just that we haven’t been playing better.”
The Trojans have veteran help from wing Byron Wesley, a 7-foot-2-inch center in Omar Oraby and a senior transfer from Maryland in Pe’Shon Howard, plus an explosive if unpredictable scorer in J.T. Terrell.
It isn’t all bad for the Trojans.
“Just because you’re 0-2 doesn’t mean you’re going to finish badly,” Howard said.
“That’s the reason you come here, to a high-division program. You look forward to the challenges. We had a good out-of-conference record and we competed well, so we’re not discouraged.”
So the Trojans may have confidence on their side. And history.
USC, limping along with interim coach Bob Cantu late last season after Kevin O’Neill was fired, beat the Wildcats 89-78 at the Galen Center.
Arizona has never swept both games of the Los Angeles trip under Miller.
So before there can be history at Arizona, the Wildcats have to make some history in Los Angeles.
“To come here and win one is something we’re proud of,” Miller said. “But being able to win two is much different. That’s our focus now.”