The Arizona Wildcats had two reasons to celebrate over the weekend, knocking off ASU on Saturday and getting the next day off for New Year’s Eve.
But the party ended at 10 a.m. Monday, when the Wildcats met for breakfast and then held a noon practice.
Basketball season doesn’t really stop for the holidays, after all. Especially in Arizona’s case, since the Wildcats have to play on the road Thursday against a Utah team that just came off its first-ever sweep at Oregon and Oregon State.
“That’s the hard part — whether you won or lose this game you have a really tough trip ahead to Utah,” UA coach Sean Miller said Saturday, after UA beat ASU 84-78. “It’s not easy to beat Oregon, especially there. ...It’s about moving on. This game’s over and we have to play Arizona State there (on Feb. 15), which will be a monster game. We have 17 games in front of us and … you have to be able to handle New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day.”
Miller said he usually schedules a practice for late morning or early afternoon on New Year’s Day, giving his players some room to enjoy New Year’s Eve, but not too much. He also found he doesn’t have to worry much about this group, after they returned from a relatively long four-day break for Christmas to start preparing for ASU on Dec. 26.
“You have to be really smart, disciplined and make sure we have some really good preparation,” Miller said. “We had a really mature group leave us, go home for Christmas, then come back, practice hard and get ready for (ASU). That’s a big reason we won. We worked hard.”
Wildcats move to No. 14
Arizona’s win over ASU had minimal impact in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, with the Wildcats moving from No. 17 to No. 14 while ASU dropped from No. 3 to No. 4.
UA and ASU continue to be the only Pac-12 teams in the poll, though UCLA received the 30th-most votes after sweeping Washington State and Washington over the weekend.
The rankings were almost identical to the teams’ rankings in the NCAA’s official RPI, which has UA at 17 and ASU at No. 6. However, Arizona has a Sagarin power rating of No. 12 and is No. 14 in kenpom. ASU is 19 in Sagarin and 18 in Kenpom.
In the AP poll, Michigan State took over the top spot from Villanova, which lost at Butler.
Among the UA’s other opponents, Purdue moved up a spot to No. 13 while Texas A&M dropped from No. 5 to No. 11. The Wildcats lost 89-64 to Purdue on Nov. 24 in the Bahamas but beat Texas A&M 67-64 on Dec. 5 in Phoenix.
Bibbins, Utes on a roll
Not only did Utah win at Oregon for the first time since 1951 on Friday, but the Utes also held off Oregon State 66-64 on Sunday even as the Beavers had three chances to win or tie in the final 11 seconds.
“It’s hard to win on the road,” Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. “You’ve got a lot of things going against you, and our guys stuck together. … On the road, you try to put yourself in a position where you can win the game at the end. You’re not going to count on blowing people out.”
Point guard Justin Bibbins, a grad transfer from Long Beach State, scored 18 points to lead Utah. Bibbins also had 19 points, including several key shots in the second half, to make the difference in the Utes’ win at Eugene. He shot a combined 54 percent, including 9 for 16 from 3-point range, in the two games.
As a result of his play in Oregon, Bibbins could be Deandre Ayton’s biggest competition for the Pac-12 Player of the Week award. The UA forward had 23 points, 19 rebounds, three blocks and three assists to six turnovers in the Wildcats’ win over ASU.
Meanwhile, USC’s Bennie Boatwright scored 33 points to lead the Trojans over New Mexico State in the final of the Diamond Head Classic championship on Christmas Day while shooting a combined 58.1 percent for the week, between the Diamond Head final and home games against the Washington schools.
The Pac-12 Player of the Week award is usually announced on Mondays, but will be determined instead on Tuesday this week because of the New Year’s holiday.