TUCSON, Ariz. — If Arizona coach Sean Miller was looking to get his team back into a routine after a nine-day layoff, it was mission accomplished.
Although it wasn’t as flawless as a coach would like, it was a smooth 93-50 victory against visiting Northern Arizona at McKale Center on Wednesday night.
“You could tell we were getting anxious to play a game,” Miller said. “I hope it was a healthy length of time. It makes players appreciate the games as well. It’s why you do this — for players to be ready at game time. It makes our guys hungry to play.”
Given the makeup of this season’s Wildcats — one of very good chemistry and little drama — Arizona’s ho-hum home drubbings of lesser opponents are OK with Miller. The team is winning and learning.
The mantra of the Lute Olson era was: November games are made for preparing for March and all its Madness; The Miller theory is November is for preparing for, well, December.
Progress is the purpose.
“What we’ve talked about is our own identity — who are we?” Miller said, later intertwining his hands for emphasis. “We’re a team that is all-in and has sacrificed and has played hard and takes pride in playing hard.”
That includes, being able to “pound you on the glass,” Miller added. The Wildcats did just that, outrebounding NAU, 39-27.
In the coming weeks or months it won’t be so much about the opponent but about themselves.
“When you can judge yourselves and can go through your own course, that’s when you can be the best you can be,” Miller said. “We’ve talked a lot about that.”
Even if the last four games haven’t been close.
Wednesday night’s game surely wasn’t, save for a late-first half run that cut Arizona’s halftime lead to 39-26.
But it was Arizona’s 30-13 second-half start that put the separation between the two in-state schools and had Arizona winning for the 29th consecutive time against the Lumberjacks (2-4).
“We were definitely ready to come out and play,” said sophomore Nick Johnson, who had 10 points, seven assists and four steals. “I felt in the first half we gave them a few easy buckets, but we were ready with the nine days off.”
In fact, Wednesday was much like the previous three games, where the ‘Cats have been untested and unflappable.
Senior Mark Lyons led the team in scoring for the third time in four games. He had 18 points, while Senior Solomon Hill added 17 points.
Four games, four double-digit wins.
“It’s people getting more comfortable playing with each other,” Johnson said. “It’s a very deep team, and we’re getting more comfortable and will continue throughout the year.”
Of course, the schedule hasn’t been the toughest as Arizona continues to inch its way up in the polls to No. 9, after starting at No. 12.
This game marked the return of former UA coach Lute Olson staff member Jack Murphy, who is in his first year as head coach at NAU.
“It’s like going to a service academy,” Murphy said. “It’s great before and great after, but during it was awful. I am just excited that our team is through this stretch on the road and we are going home to play in the dome starting Saturday.”
NAU faces Sam Houston State. Arizona goes on the road for the first time, facing Texas Tech on Saturday.
“It’s time,” Miller said, in anticipation of his team’s first road test. “It will prepare us for conference play. We will rely a lot on our veterans.”