Arizona entered 2015 losing four of their five starters from 2014 and having three of their five starters for 2015 playing their first season for the team.
To make matters worse, that lone returning starter — Kaleb Tarczewski — is battling left foot injuries and could miss the start of Pac-12 conference play after already missing their biggest non-conference games against Providence, Gonzaga and UNLV.
There’s also Ray Smith tearing his ACL in October and Elliott Pitts missing the past four games. Smith’s length and athleticism would have been of great help to the Wildcats both on defense and the glass and Pitts has been Miller’s choice to guard the opposing team’s best player.
And yet with all of those setbacks before and during the season, Arizona continues to roll and is earning its fair share of acclaim from the national media in doing so.
CBS Sports’ Matt Norlander praised the resiliency of the Arizona squad.
The Wildcats got by on 52 percent shooting and overcame 18 turnovers. Miller’s team was feisty and resilient in keeping UNLV off the offensive boards, too. Ristic’s performance was absolutely needed for Arizona, as it still doesn’t have Kaleb Tarczewski back from a foot injury. Overall, the returns are good in Tucson.
UNLV gave Arizona a good push, but the Wildcats played like a veteran squad. Every time UNLV made a little run in the second half, Zona pushed back.
As Norlander notes later on, Arizona’s only loss is to Providence, who’s only loss is to No. 1 Michigan State.
The development for Arizona in their non-conference schedule is critical for the Pac-12 conference schedule coming up at the start of the new year. Arizona State, Washington, UCLA and Stanford are the only teams with more than two losses in the conference.
With that in mind, ASU has signature wins over NC State, Texas A&M and UNLV, Washington has beat Texas and UCLA has beat UNLV, Kentucky and Gonzaga.
This is the toughest path to a conference championship that Miller has had so far and the good news for him is that his team looks ready for the challenge.