Arizona holds on to beat Utah in 'another lucky one' but knows improvements are needed.
By STEVE RIVERA FS Arizona
TUCSON, Ariz. — This time, there was no need to check the video monitor. There may be a need, though, for a gut check and a re-evaluation of what this team is and how good the third-ranked
Arizona Wildcats can really be.
They were good enough to survive a gritty Utah team on Saturday afternoon at McKale Center, winning, 60-57, in a game with a pedestrian pace that Arizona was barely able to handle. But win No. 14 was secured, and the undefeated Wildcats are now 2-0 in Pac-12 play.
It just wasn't easy — as usual.
"It was another lucky one," said UA senior Kevin Parrom, who had seven points and eight rebounds. "We've been lucky for a couple of weeks now. Luck is going to run out soon. We have to play better. We have to get back to practice and work on our stuff."
The Wildcats limped to the finish line Saturday against the Utes after nearly getting knocked down Thursday in a controversial game in which officials went to the game monitor to change a last-second call, waving off an apparent Colorado 3-pointer at the buzzer in a game Arizona eventually won, 92-83, in overtime.
On Saturday, the Wildcats made just three field goals in the last 12:21 of the game and had no — as in zero — fast-break points. That from a team that relies on fast-break opportunities. UA shot just 36.2 percent from the field and gave up seven 3-pointers (17 in the past two games).
"We are not playing well," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "We are nowhere near where we need to be. Sometimes you hit a peak when you're playing so well and think no one in the country can beat you. Once in a while you don't play well and are reminded of how difficult it is to win every game."
Miller did acknowledge, however, it beats the alternative.
"We got through the weekend where the difference was very few points," he said, "but we were able to win both. We will be able to learn from these."
What they've learned, according to Parrom, is to be prepared for every team's "best shot."
"We have to play better," Parrom said. "We kind of made the game harder than it was supposed to be. (Opponents) are playing to the best level they can. We have a bull's-eye on our back, and we have to understand that. Games are going to be tough for us.
"We're undefeated . . . and everybody has to understand we have to play harder. Nothing is going to be easy."
The wins won't be easy until the Wildcats "play from start to finish." That hasn't been the case for some time now.
On Saturday, the finish was a lot like it was Thursday night, when it went down to the wire in regulation. But this time, Utah's Jarred DuBois missed a 3-pointer with three seconds left that would have tied it.
The ball bounced high off the rim and had a chance to fall in, but didn't.
"I am convinced we are going to catch some breaks, but we just have to continue to bring it and some of those shots are going to go in for us," said Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak.
Utah's loss was its second consecutive close call after a 55-54 overtime defeat against Arizona State on Thursday. The Utes are now 8-6 overall and 0-2 in the Pac-12.
And for Arizona, it was another bounce and game that has gone its way this season, keeping the Wildcats one of only four remaining undefeated teams in Division I. The Wildcats have come from behind a number of times and survived, hitting a last-second shot against Florida and blocking one against San Diego State, most notably.
Through it all, Arizona has been resilient, finding ways to win.
"It's our finish mentality, that we can finish the game out," forward Solomon Hill said of UA's late-game success after finishing with a game-high 19 points. "It's about the last four minutes of all the four games. It's about us competing in crunch time. We continue to play hard. We will continue to keep pushing until the clock runs out."
Still, there are plenty of concerns, as the Wildcats haven't played that way all the time. Saturday's game was an example of it.
"Today was more of a concern for me, because I didn't think the level of play was any good," Miller said. "We certainly put ourselves in a position that with better play we didn't need to be in."
Better play would involve better ball movement (not taking quick shots) and better team defense, especially from the 3-point line, a concern that's been there all season. And, oh yes, playing better at home in front of a sold-out crowd.
It's not going to be any easier going forward, as Arizona heads to Oregon to face the Ducks on Thursday and the Beavers on Saturday.
Part of Arizona's trouble, Miller believes, is that the team hasn't been able to fully get back to the typical practice schedule it was on after a nearly week-long trip to Hawaii. Miller said he's figured the team has practiced about three or four times since returning just after Christmas.
"We've gone 11 days where we are not having those hard practices," Miller said.
"Generally, coming off Christmas it takes time to get back . . . (but) all that is behind us. This team needs to go through about three (practices) in a row where we can get our saw sharpened and more back into that preparation mode. Hopefully that will help us."