Hunted all season, Arizona will be again with No. 1 seed
TUCSON, Ariz. — For months, Arizona played, oftentimes at its highest level, to get what it received Sunday afternoon: a top seed and short trip to San Diego.
Now, when it faces Weber State at 11 a.m. Friday, it’s about taking full advantage of being the West Region’s No. 1 seed as the madness of March officially begins.
"It’s good that we’re a 1 seed," Miller said Sunday night. "It’s never bad. And for us it’s about playing to win — to be who we are, do what we do."
Not since 2003 has Arizona been a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. Success put Arizona in this coveted spot. Now it is up to the Wildcats on how they handle it.
It’s a survival test from here on out.
"When you enter it you have to enter it with that single-mindedness that it can be taken from you quickly," Miller said. "You take nothing for granted."
After all, Arizona is a program that has experienced the highs and lows of March (first-round losses and a national title). Miller, too, has seen moments that have been beyond belief. In the five years he’s been at Arizona he’s taken the program to the brink of the Final Four just three years ago and the Sweet 16 last year — both as an underdog.
This season, Arizona (30-4) will be one of the targets. It’s a role Arizona hasn’t had since 2003, when it fell to Kansas in the Elite Eight in the final moments.
But if there is an experienced team in being a target it’s this one. From early December to now it’s been either No. 1 and/or ranked in the top five. It knows pressure.
"We’ve been the hunted all year, starting off being highly ranked," Miller said. "I think everyone wondered if we were worthy. But we were the No. 1 team in the nation for eight weeks so we know how that feels."
But this is the time when teams make their mark. Teams define seasons by March. It’s either good or it’s great. Sometimes neither, and that’s not a good thing.
"Part of what I hope we’ve become is battle tested," Miller said. "We’ve been (tested) by teams in hostile environments; we’ve been in close games; and we’ve been there and done that."
And although Miller said Weber State (19-11) is a "fantastic 3-point shooting team" and "highly skilled" being winners of the Big Sky Conference regular season and postseason, a lot of how his team moves forward will be because of how it handles being, well, Arizona. And for 30 games (and parts of the other four) the Wildcats have looked superb, save for some less than pin-point free throw shooting as witnessed in its 75-71 loss to UCLA on Saturday in hitting just 6 of 16.
Can Arizona overcome that? Can it move on?
And, can Arizona handle the noise and the hype?
That said, Arizona’s players have nothing scheduled with the media until they arrive in San Diego on Thursday.
For now, it’s about desensitizing critic’s picks and predictions that Arizona may or may not get beyond the second round.
"Last year, most people thought we were going to lose to Belmont," Miller joked. "When I was at Xavier, they thought we were located in Louisiana. It doesn’t matter. The bottom line is, just win. It’s not about talking or predicting. Unfortunately, the people who predict, no one ever holds them to their prediction. They go on and make another prediction. It’s an awesome job. If you’re right, great, if you’re not, who cares, just do it again."
He’ll leave the predicting to the predictors and leave his team to preparing to play.
"If you focus on anything (beyond the first game) then you’ll be on spring break," Miller said.
He added: "For our team, it’s (about) being the most ready we can be on Friday. And if that’s the case let’s go for it."
What should help, again, is Arizona’s experience of being the target.
The good news is he’s never lost to a seed higher than his — at Xavier or Arizona.
"I sure hope that streak continues. There would be a lot of good moments over the next three or four weeks (if that were to happen)," he said. "I think sometimes you can make too much of what has happened in the past. You just have to stay in the present."