No. 14 Arizona working on defense vs. California (Jan 17, 2018)
For the last couple of weeks -- maybe for the rest of the season -- Arizona coach Sean Miller will say "this is an important week" given what is at stake for the Wildcats, now that they sit in a tie with Stanford atop the Pac-12 Conference standings. And, as it has slowly has crept up in the rankings.
No. 14 Arizona (14-4, 4-1 in Pac-12) faces host California (7-11, 1-4) on Wednesday in Berkeley, Calif., in Haas Pavilion. It faces Stanford on Saturday, meaning there will be an extra day of preparation for Saturday. It's out of the norm for Arizona.
"We need to make that an advantage and not a disadvantage," said Miller, who added the last two weekend games saw a quick Thursday-Saturday turnaround with a noon-game on Saturday. "We have to use (that time) to our advantage...
"Part of the reason it's big is because we're trying to accomplish significant things. Sweeping on the road is not an easy thing to do."
Arizona failed to do so in its first conference road trip two weeks ago, falling to Colorado after winning nine consecutive games. What that loss showed is there is still a lot to improve on for Arizona with defense still being the No. 1 issue.
"(It has) a lot of room for growth," Miller said.
He added: "We're a much better offensive team than defensive team."
It's something that had Miller almost self-reflecting on his team at the midway point of the season. UA entered the season as the No. 2 team in the country, only to lose three straight in the Bahamas in November. It won nine consecutive, then lost, and then beat the Oregon schools last week.
"I think a lot of questions remain (about) where do we go from here?" Miller said.
If Miller has questions, California coach Wyking Jones, in his first season, has lots of questions about his team and his opponents. California, undersized yet athletic, must deal with the duo 7-footers Arizona has in freshman Deandre Ayton and senior Dusan Ristic, who combine for 31 points and 18 rebounds a game.
"We have to make them play in crowds," said Jones. "Guarding them one on one is going to be tough."
Specific to Ayton, a 7-1 phenom, who leads the Pac-12 in a number of categories (field goals made, 143; rebounds per game, 11.3; points per game, 20.2; and double-doubles, 12), Jones said Ayton creates a dilemma unlike most teams face in the conference, if not the nation.
"There's nobody," Jones said when asked to compare Ayton to anyone else he's seen. "He will probably be the No. 1 pick in the (NBA) draft. He's an animal. He's a monster. I don't know if you've seen anyone like that in college basketball. He's a special, one of a kind type talent."
Entering the game, Ayton is one of only three players in the nation to average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game while shooting 60 percent or greater. Duke's Marvin Bagley III and Saint Mary's Jock Landale are the other two.
"You can't expect one person to guard him," Jones said. "You live with the kick outs (to other players). You're not going to stop him; you just don't want him to go crazy."