The Arizona Wildcats are rising.
Ranked 12th in the country, Sean Miller’s team could go a long way towards locking up the Pac-10 crown with wins over the Washington schools this week. In fact, Arizona has won six straight since losing to the Huskies January 20, their streak beginning with a 65-63 win over the Cougars in Pullman.
“It was such a hard fought game,” Miller said at his weekly press conference Tuesday. “At the time there was a lot at stake.
“For us to fight through like we did – we didn’t win with our offense that night, we did it more with our defense. To me, leaving that game, it continued to fill our team with confidence.”
That confidence has helped carry the Wildcats through some close games, though they are still seeking that “signature win” over a top opponent. Neither of this week’s opponents are in the top 25, but Miller knows how tough it will be to come away with a sweep.
“Washington State and Washington are two really good teams,” Miller said. “In particular Washington, the way they played us in Seattle, speaks volumes of their talent and their depth.
“Washignton State, every game we’ve played against them the last two years has been a tough battle.”
Miller pointed out Klay Thompson, who leads the Cougars in scoring with 20.6 points per game. A junior, he was held to just nine in the first meeting between the teams.
“There’s not an easy solution for him,” Miller said.
However, Miller noted the goal is to turn Thompson into a volume shooter.
“You don’t want him to have one of those prolific nights where he has four of five threes, 12 shots, 25 points…he’s more than capable of that,” he said, admitting the scorer did miss a few open shots that night.
While Thompson is Washington State’s main offensive threat, the Wildcats have learned to win even when star Derrick Williams has an off night.
While Williams has received most of the attention – and rightfully so – his supporting cast of Lamont Jones, Kyle Fogg, Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom, Jamelle Horne, Jessy Perry and Jordin Mayes have all stepped up during conference play, giving Williams help when he’s needed it and picking up the slack when the All-America candidate has an off night. Facing Washington State’s 2-3 zone Thursday, Miller knows he’ll need the shooters to be on target.
“We’ve played about as much zone as you can in one season, and that has really helped us be more comfortable,” he said.
Of course, if the Wildcats hope to get comfortable atop the conference standings, a pair of wins this weekend would do wonders for them.
Miller said the two games will go a long way towards determining where the Wildcats sit entering the final weeks of the regular season, and the team knows they must play well if there is conference championship in their future.
“Every game for us there’s a lot at stake, and that’s the fun part of where we’re at right now, and also the challenge,” he said, as his team has now become the team to beat in the Pac-10. “We talk a lot about, we have six games left, before the ASU game we had seven left. There’s an equal price on all seven games.”