Though it has been a nerve-wracking two years for the Arizona Wildcats basketball program, as advertised, head coach Sean Miller has the program back on track.
“Over the long haul, as long as we continue to recruit the right players and treat them right and develop them, success will follow, especially at a place, like I said, that has had such great success before I ever showed up,” Miller said in his first press conference in April of 2009.
The “long haul” was but a one-year absence from the NCAA Tournament in 2010, which snapped a streak of 25 straight appearances in the NCAA Tournament.
In his second year at the helm, Miller led the Wildcats to a regular season Pac-10 title and a heartbreaking runner-up finish in the 2011 Pac-10 Tournament. Miller and the Wildcats won 11 more games than in 2009-2010 while Miller was named the 2011 Pac-10 Coach of the Year, but most importantly, they punched their ticked to the 2011 Big Dance.
The 5-seeded Wildcats (27-7, 14-4) will open their tournament against the 12-seeded Memphis Tigers (25-9, 10-6) in Tulsa, Okla. Friday afternoon.
Even though Memphis comes into this game as a 12 seed, Miller and the Wildcats will not overlook the Tigers.
“Memphis, with their talent…It’s going to be a great game Friday,” Miller said. “Our preparation this week has to be really on point for us to go there and play well. We’re going to have to play very well.”
Memphis enters the tournament by virtue of an automatic bid awarded for winning the Confrence USA Tournament by defeating UTEP in dramatic fashion Saturday afternoon. The Tigers were down 12 points to the host Miners with six minutes remaining in the second half. The comback was capped by Joe Jackson’s two freethrows that put the Tigers ahead 67-66 with seven seconds remaining. The Tigers only led for the final seven seconds of the C-USA championship game, but had the advantage when the clock reached 0:00.
The Tigers’ coaching staff is very familiar with the Wildcats and vice versa. Head coach Josh Pastner and assistant coach Jack Murphy are both Arizona alums, with both getting their coaching starts under the legendary Lute Olson.
Despite the fact that the Tigers come in as an underdog, Pastner’s club will show no fear.
“We are playing as an underdog. We’re going to go in loose, run and gun, bombs away and have fun. We just have to keep loose, keep in good spirits,” the second-year coach said.
Miller recognizes the challenges in playing a young team eager to prove themselves.
“They’re very young and talented and really get up and down the court with ease. They have a lot of different players that can make shots, and to me their defense is very good,” he said.
One of Arizona’s best defenders, junior guard Kyle Fog is expected to be back in the starting lineup come Friday after being hampered by a quadricep injury he suffered last month against Oregon State.
“The good news is I think he will be back at full strength for our first game. I think he would start again as long as he could resume practicing and it looks like he is headed towards a hundred percent, and that’s probably what we’ll do. That’s the best team we can put on the court,” Miller said.
There will be one more Arizona tie-in during Friday’s 2nd round game. Arizona “Ring of Honor” member Steve Kerr will be the color analyst along side Marv Albert. Kerr was also the analyst for Arizona’s contest at McKale Center against UCLA, a game also broadcast by CBS.