PALO ALTO, Calif. – First place meant Derrick Williams woke up with a cheery greeting on Twitter and that Sean Miller had reason to smile on another busy turnaround Friday.
“We’re excited about it,” Miller said of first place today, before the Wildcats moved to their Berkeley hotel. “I don’t think it’s necessarily something that drives us, or that we talk about every day. I do think where our team is its so much about what I’ve always maintained and that is just the purpose of working hard to get better and not getting distracted.”
That’s where the concerns, even with a lofty 8-2 conference record, start to come in. Miller said the Wildcats have so far been focused on improvement, but said it’s becoming the time of year when “it’s so easy to get drawn into conversations you can’t control, whether it be a player leaving for the NBA, the NCAA Tournament, things that are happening and being said on TV.”
In other words, the Wildcats are no longer under the radar.
Miller already complained after UA’s wins over UCLA and USC last week that they let up late in those victories and Derrick Williams said the Wildcats came out flat after halftime on Thursday at Stanford.
“Yeah, it really does” pose a concern, Miller said. “We played with a lot of poise last night when you think about the last four minutes. Winning on the road is hard. It just is. So conference road win, we’re thrilled about it, but we do have a team that’s not mature.
“It’s not like there’s leadership everywhere. We have a lot of guys in their second year in key roles. And then we have someone like Kyle (Fogg), who’s really settled in and done a great job but again with Kyle, you kind of sense he’s young to all of this because he’s only in his second year with our staff.
“So from that perspective, we don’t ever go into a game with an advantage of leadership and experience. That does worry you, and … that’s far more important than worrying about whether we’re in first place or not.”
(So, yes, JW/Tom, he is concerned...)
Miller said Williams (sprained pinky) and MoMo Jones (hip pointer, sprained knee) will both take it easy today in practice, but that the Wildcats are not scheduled for much contact in their afternoon workout at Haas Pavilion anyway.
"One of the ways we can be smarter with (Williams) today and early next week is to just be smart in terms of not letting his hand get hit," Miller said. "We know he's playing with a certain level of discomfort but we also know that that discomfort is going to become more moderate over time."
Miller said the Bears are better than the team that stayed within two points of UA at McKale Center last month.
"They are really improved," Miller said. "The first time we played them we knew that was going to happen because they are playing so many newcomers but at the same time they have a deceiving level of experience: Harper Kamp, (Markhuri) Sanders-Frison, Jorge Gutierrez -- those three guys right there are really solid with experience. ...
"Allen Crabbe is probably going to be the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. You throw that out there and you really see they have really gotten good on offense. They execute and score. They are really doing it against the whole Pac-10 right now."
Cal's win over ASU was its fourth in a row, leaving the Bears alone in fourth place, just a game back from Washington and UCLA.
Jamelle McMillan is waiting for the Sun Devils to catch a break.
Maybe the Cougars had a post-Husky letdown in Eugene.
Certainly, something must have gotten into Washington after the basketball Apple Cup was played in Pullman.
Steve Lavin has been gone from UCLA for a long time, at least in the minds of the current Bruins players who will face him Saturday.