Arizona unbeaten ... but far from perfect
JAN 02, 2013 4:12p ET
TUCSON, Ariz. -- When you're 12-0 and one of the top five teams in the country, the blemishes aren't as noticeable as they would be if you were limping into your Pac-12 opener and wondering who you are and where you fit in.
“Anytime you can be 12-0, it's a heck of a statement,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said this week. “It's not easy to do.”
Arizona knows exactly where it stands as it enters conference play against Colorado on Thursday night at McKale Center: It is front and center, with every Pac-12 opponent licking its chops to take down the preseason favorite.
Is it Arizona's title to win? The players have been schooled to say nothing. It's their job just to win and everything else will take care of itself.
So far, so good. And at times, Arizona has looked very, very good.
How did Arizona get here in the first place? Well, its mix of upperclassmen and younger players has been Miller's recipe for success.
“We have a bunch of unselfish guys that just want to win,” senior Kevin Parrom says. “We don't care who has the most minutes or the most points at the end of the night, we just want to win.”
The Wildcats are one of just four undefeated teams left in Division I. They have won on the road and at home. They have won convincingly and in down-to-the-wire nailbiters.
“I've liked what we've (done) and have gained a lot of confidence,” Miller said, while adding it is still a "work in progress."
The chemistry has been outstanding, with Parrom filling the key sixth man role; freshmen Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski alternating at the inside positions; Mark Lyons and Solomon Hill providing senior leadership; and sophomore guard Nick Johnson doing a little bit of everything.
But yes, there are improvements to be made if the Wildcats hope to reach their ultimate goal: a deep run into March.
Turnovers: Arizona has slopped its way through some perplexing give-the-ball-away stages but has been capable of buttoning things up in tough situations. The Wildcats had 27 turnovers in a win over Southern Mississippi, but against San Diego State last week, they had just eight in a tight, pressure-packed game. The guards, Lyons, Johnson and Jordin Mayes, need to do better than their 1.25-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
“We've kind of been Jeykll and Hyde with that,” Miller said. “We're averaging more than 14 turnovers a game, and more than 14 is cause for concern. We want to be a team that can play with less than 12.”
Arizona's managed that in only three of its past seven games.
“We're working hard to get better at that,” Miller said.
3-point field goal defense: It was a concern earlier this year when teams were knocking down 3-pointers with relative ease. It remains a concern because once a problem, always a problem, but Miller said his team is showing improvement. Going into Thursday's game the team is allowing 35.1 percent from beyond the arc, 10th best in the Pac-12.
“It has improved over the last three or four weeks,” Miller said. “It's more of a function of us and not the opponent. That has to continue; 35 percent is too high.”
Feeding the big men: Miller said there's not a specific number of shots he'd like to get from Tarzcewski, Jerrett and Ashley, but he'd like more opportunties inside.
“There is that handful of times in games that presents itself where we have to take advantage of our size,” Miller said. “Sometimes it's willingness to throw it in and our ability to throw it in.”
Some of it has to do with the big man making himself available.
“We are improving in that area, and the more we can get it inside, the better team we will be,” Miller said.
Lastly, Miller said the team needs to keep practicing well. It can't afford to get complacent.
“We can't lose sight of what got us to where were are at,” Miller said. “There's a lot (of basketball) left.”