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Arizona enters key stretch of season looking to address weaknesses

Arizona head coach Sean Miller reacts to a foul call in the first half during an NCAA college basketball game against Utah, Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018, in Tucson, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

The Arizona Wildcats have won 15 of their last 16 games, but head coach Sean Miller sees a lot more work left for his team to be the best version of themselves for March.

“We have to continue to really improve as a team,” Miller said Monday. “There’s a lot of basketball left.

“I think it’s the team that continues to grow, learn more about themselves — we all hope we can stay injury-free, things happen that are out of our control — but for us, keeping the focus on all of the things across the board that we feel we can improve on.”

To no surprise, this starts on the defensive end, where the Wildcats have failed to meet the lofty standards that past Miller teams have hit for his aggressive man-to-man driven teams.

“We foul way too much,” he said. “I think we’re looking at ways, areas, sometimes its a certain player, to do that better. Fouling kills your defense.”

Arizona has averaged 18.3 fouls per Pac-12 contest and opponents are shooting an average of 21 free throws per game.

Miller also wants more quality minutes out of his bench, and one player that has come back into the rotation recently is freshman Emmanuel Akot.

“Emmanuel did a good job in the last game,” Miller said. “He’s playing more because we’re all gaining more confidence in him but more importantly he’s gaining more confidence in himself.”

Akot has played double-digit minutes in three of his last four games after doing so just once over a 12-game stretch, showing some belief from Miller that his role for the team could be very valuable for them the rest of the season.

“He’s not a small guy,” Miller said. “So when he comes in the game it looks different.”

Akot presents a unique dynamic off the bench. At 6-foot-7 with long arms and terrific athletic ability, he’s capable of guarding at least three positions and also has experience as a primary ball-handler.

All of these skills together are enticing but have added up to a slow start in which he looks every bit the part of a freshman trying to find his footing.

“I think there’s some real value there in having a bigger wing, being able to defend multiple positions, so we’ll see where we go from here,” Miller said.”

Arizona goes on the road and takes on the Washington schools this week. They start at Washington State on Wednesday at 8 p.m. and wrap up with the always anticipated Washington showdown at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday.

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