TUCSON, Ariz. – With arguably their most difficult road trip in the rearview mirror, the Arizona Wildcats return home to face a pair of schools who are not what they used to be but are still plenty dangerous.
The Wildcats split their trip to the Northwest, losing to Washington 85-68 and defeating Washington St. 65-63, but in no way can rest on those wins and a 16-4 (5-2) record.
“One of the things I’ve learned in my brief time in the Pac-10 is really being at home, staying put for back to back games, so you have almost this six or seven day window there where you’re not traveling and your players are in a groove of practicing in their daily routine,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said. “And then having two games in three days is something you really want to take advantage of, and this weekend, for example, it’s easier said than done, because we’re playing against two really quality opponents, both of them can beat us.”
Miller said his team has done a good job of defending the McKale Center, and an 11-0 home record goes a long way towards backing up that claim. But, Arizona has not played anyone as good as UCLA in Tucson this year, as the 13-6 (5-2) UCLA Bruins visit with second place in the Pac-10 on the line Thursday night.
Miller is aware of the challenge a team like UCLA poses, especially with the size freshman Joshua Smith brings to the table.
“He’s really a big guy but he has equally phenomenal hands,” Miller said of Smith. Smith, at 6-10 and 305 lbs., will be difficult for the smaller Wildcats to handle down low. “He just catches everything, gets his hands on the ball, he’s going to get his shot. That’s one of the reasons he’s such a great offensive rebounder, because when he gets his hands on the ball he goes right back up with it and scores.”
UCLA also brings Reeves Nelson, whose 13.9 ponints and 8 rebounds per game lead the team, and Tyler Honeycutt, who scores 13.7 points and pulls down 7.7 rebounds per contest. They’ve won 10 of their last 12 games, including the last four. Oh, they’ve also beaten BYU.
So while the Bruins bring a winning streak, history and toughness to the table, one thing they for sure won’t have on the home team is style. The Wildcats are debuting new uniforms for Thursday’s nationally televised game.
“I’m going to tell you this, I don’t think there is nicer uniform in college basketball than ours,” Miller said. “You’ll see that these are spectacular.”
Miller said the new look is just something that comes along with being an elite program like Arizona.
“Part of what you want to do when you sign up to come to Arizona is you want to be associated with those elite programs who have won a national championship, that get the best and are treated the best,” he said. “We’re that type of program. And I think our uniforms will really reflect that. And they do now, but this is the latest version.”