Arizona basketball: Friends Miller, Matta turn enemies for day

Sean Miller

LOS ANGELES - All the good things are still in front of the Arizona Wildcats today, which is maybe all they can ask for at this point.

With a win at UCLA today at Pauley Pavilion, the Wildcats can clinch at least a tie for their first Pac-10 Conference title since 2005. They won't be able to clinch an outright championship, but they could take care of that next week against Oregon State and Oregon at home.

They also could move closer to the Pac-10 tournament's No. 1 overall seed, which would pit them against a play-in opponent in the quarterfinals and put them on the opposite side of the bracket from UCLA and Washington.

They could also, with a win, take a big step toward earning the Pac-10's best and most protected NCAA tournament seed, too. They could even get a spot in the West Regional, which would place them in Anaheim, Calif., if they won their first two NCAA tournament games.

"If you had a chance to trade, who would we rather be right now with three games left? Nobody," UA coach Sean Miller said Friday. "So we have to take care of what we're supposed to."

It's not a bad place to be for a team that Miller says is still immature, with a slim margin for error that was exposed in a 65-57 loss at USC on Thursday.

"We've played some excellent basketball, and we have a very good basketball team, but it's not as if we can go out there and not be completely together or on point as a team and still be successful," Miller said. "When we're not, we're as vulnerable as five or six teams in the Pac-10, and part of our record right now is we've won some really hard-fought, close games.

"I would say our 12-3 record is probably closer to 10-5 than 14-1. With that let's take advantage of some of the good things that have happened to us and stay true to who we are. That's probably the quest here."

To do it, the Wildcats must revert to the cohesive offense and all-out defense that helped them rattle off eight straight wins until Thursday.

Arizona stayed true to its three-point defensive ability at USC, holding the Trojans to 1 of 10 from long range, but was repeatedly burned inside by quick guards and shot around and over by NBA prospect Nikola Vucevic.

On offense, Miller said, the Wildcats simply didn't bother working for good shots.

"We addressed it this morning, and watched some clips from the game," Miller said Friday. "The only thing we can do is learn from it, like we have all season long. It isn't like in some of our recent wins we haven't addressed things to try to improve but last night we were diverted as a team.

"We weren't screening, we weren't consumed with moving the ball and getting a great shot. We got off-kilter a little bit, and when you play against a good defensive team like USC, that can really make you look bad."

UCLA can make you look bad, too. Maybe more so.

The Bruins are right behind USC in scoring defense in Pac-10 games, allowing just 65.4 average points a game, and league teams are shooting just 41.7percent from the field against them.

A zone team for much of last season, UCLA has steadily stiffened its man-to-man defense this season to where it tore apart ASU 71-53 on Thursday despite starting slowly.

"Like any young team that has no seniors on it, you hope to continue to improve on things throughout the season, defense being one of them," UCLA coach Ben Howland said. "I think we have continued to improve in that respect.

"In many respects when I see (sophomores) Reeves (Nelson) and Tyler (Honeycutt) or Brendan (Lane) … playing zone didn't help them grow last season - so in many respects it was like those guys are freshmen. They have gotten better and better. That's been good."

On StarNet: See the Star's interactive Insider game preview at azstarnet.com/multimedia

Today

• What: No. 10 Arizona at UCLA

• When: 2 p.m.

• TV: FSAZ

• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM

Southern discomfort

Two days after USC stifled the Cats' efficient offense, Arizona faces UCLA's tough defense.

41.7 percent

UCLA allows opponents to shoot this percentage from the field - third behind Washington State and USC in Pac-10 games

65.4

Points allowed per game by UCLA - second in conference games behind USC