In order to win the Pac-12, the Arizona Wildcats’ mission is pretty clear cut: Win them all.
If UA beats both USC and UCLA this week, plus ASU in the final game of the season, the Pac-12 championship is theirs – as long as Oregon loses one of its road games at Colorado and Utah.
“This is a big week for us,” UA coach Sean Miller said today at his weekly news conference. “I don’t know if you have to win every game or not. That’s not for us to necessarily decide but we’re going to try to be at our best moving forward.”
If the Wildcats don’t win them all, or Oregon wins out, Arizona could fall into a tiebreaker for the Pac-12 Tournament that it will not win. The Wildcats have lost to Oregon, UCLA and Cal, the three most likely teams it could end up in a tiebreaker with (and Pac-12 tiebreakers are settled first by head-to-head records among any two tied teams or groups of tied teams).
A tiebreaker at the top wouldn’t be a surprise for Miller.
“It’s a three-game season and we’re tired for first place,” he said. “One of the things that’s really not categorized correctly is which conference has that runaway champion? A lot of people would say the conference race is really tight … but if you just look around college basketball there’s going to be one game, maybe two, that separate teams. Our conference is like that.
"With two weeks left, there’s very little separation because there’s a lot of good teams in our conference.”
Miller said he figured the Pac-12 champ would lose only three or four games, though it is possible five losses gets a co-championship this season.
As of now, Arizona, Oregon and UCLA have four losses, while Cal has five – but the Bears only have home games left against Utah, Colorado and Stanford.
Oregon has a home finale against OSU on Thursday then will play Utah and Colorado on the road next week. UCLA will host ASU and UA this week, then finish with the Washington road swing.
Derrick Williams is in town to promote his apparel/shoe store but Miller said it’s more likely that the Wildcats will see him in Los Angeles, where the Timberwolves will play the Lakers on Thursday.
“Obviously, his No. 1 priority is the Timberwolves,” Miller said. “I don’t know if our paths will cross but he talked about maybe having the opportunity to come to the USC game.
“But I try to leave him alone. He’s a young guy with a lot on his plate. We’re proud of him but we also want him to focus on what he needs to focus on. If he can have some extra time to deal with us, great, we’d love to see him.”
Miller said Mark Lyons has recovered from an illness that affected him Saturday against Washington State, though Lyons still logged 33 minutes.
“He had a stomach bug a lot like Nick did at Washington State,” Miller said. “It wasn’t as bad as Nick’s but he got through it OK and I think he’ll be fine.”
Miller expressed repeated concern about the Wildcats’ inconsistent defense and second-half fouling today. Here’s a sample:
“It’s not as easy to play with incredible effort especially when you’re winning the game… (but) the teams that will be there at the end will be the same that don’t do that,” Miller said. “We’re not talented enough, we don’t have enough offensive firepower to really finish this season off like we want to unless we’re a great defensive team."
Playing hard defense is “just not fun. It's not that fun to play that hard without the ball. You don’t get the credit on that end of the floor nearly as much as you do on offense. I know I’ve said this before and really believe it, but the team that’s really dedicated to the defensive end of the floor, it’s impossible to be selfish on offense. They really work hand in hand.
“I think the more we talk about being that team the more we do it, the more you’ll see our offense will be consistent. Our offense against Washington State, especially with way we shot the three … if we would have sustained better defense you would have seen our best performance of the Pac-12 season on Saturday.”