Returning the favor
Wins over Cal and Stanford this week would give the Wildcats their first unbeaten home season since Derrick Williams and company did it in 2010-11 en route to the Elite Eight.
To UA junior Nick Johnson, it’s something of a must.
“That’s something we looked at before the season — we have to protect our home court,” he said. “We get spoiled every single day the crowd comes and supports us, so it’s the least we can do.”
UA coach Sean Miller, ever-focused on the present, didn’t want to tackle the thought too much, but said: “Believe me, if I could fast-forward, and that would be accomplished, that would be of great meaning.”
When UA’s Gabe York was asked earlier this week about the 10 rebounds he collected Saturday at Colorado, Johnson shot him a non-verbal warning.
“My teammates blocked all their guys out and the ball sort of just fell in my hands a couple of times,” York said.
Johnson smiled approvingly.
“He stole a few of mine,” Johnson said. “ That’s why I looked at him.”
Colorado coach Tad Boyle, on the difference in the Arizona he saw at McKale Center last month and Saturday in Boulder:
“I see a pride and a grit and a determination from their entire organization,” Boyle said. “It’s hard to put into words how good they are defensively and how much pride they take in stopping people.”
Here’s another stat that speaks to UA’s grit this season, courtesy of the Pac-12 Networks’ JB Long:
San Diego State, Michigan, UCLA, Stanford, Utah and Colorado are a combined 83-11 at home this season. Of those 11 losses, six were to Arizona.
Cal wing Ricky Kreklow transferred from Missouri in 2011, yet tonight will be the first game he’s ever played against Arizona.
Kreklow missed much of last season with reoccurring foot problems and broke his hand in December, keeping him out of the UA-Cal game on Feb. 1 at Berkeley, Calif.
But since he’s been back, he’s added shooting, defense and all-around toughness.
“He’s had a string of bad luck,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. “As much as he’s a fourth-year player, he’s really inexperienced in terms of game action but he gives us a guy who plays hard, understands the game and is fearless in there. We’re not all that physical but Rick is not afraid to mix it up.”
Cal freshman center Kameron Rooks will make his Tucson debut tonight on the same court where his father, Sean, stood out for the UA between 1988-92.
But that doesn’t mean he’ll be any more excited than usual.
“Kameron’s excited about every game,” Montgomery told the Oakland Tribune, going on to call Kameron “a spittin’ image” of his dad — though, at 6-10 and 250 pounds, Sean Rooks was two inches and 20 pounds lighter than his son.
“Very similar, not very explosive,” said Montgomery, whose Stanford teams faced Sean Rooks. Big-body guys.”
Kameron Rooks has played in 25 of Cal’s 27 games, averaging 1.3 points and 1.7 rebounds. He played eight minutes on Feb. 1 against UA, with a rebound and a blocked shot.
On a roll
Since losing to Arizona on Jan. 29 at Maples Pavilion, Stanford has won five of six games, finally delivering on the experience, athleticism and skills that have generated expectations of an NCAA tournament appearance.
The Cardinal is coming off a nine-point home win over UCLA, when forward Josh Huestis blocked five shots after becoming the school’s alltime leading shot blocker two days earlier.
“The guys have been together a lot and with that does come some chemistry,” Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said. “That’s helped us offensively and defensively.”