Chemistry lifting Arizona basketball into elite status

TUCSON, Ariz. -- What a difference a year makes. 

Last season at this time Arizona sat at 13-13, fresh off a 73-69 home loss to ASU. The Streak that characterized Arizona Basketball was bound to come to an end as the Wildcats battled the inconsistency and constant growing pains that come along with a new head coach and a fresh crop of freshmen. 

But one year later, Arizona sits at No. 10 in the country and is a successful So-Cal trip away from a Pac-10 title. So what's the biggest reason for the 365-day turnaround? 

Derrick Williams' leap of faith from fantastic freshman to All-American and probable Pac-10 Player of the Year is one popular answer. The Wildcats' balanced attack and superb depth is another option. But the true answer is far simpler than the emergence of a superstar or a deeper bench. 

Chemistry. 

"Off the court most teams don't get along as well as we do. We like everybody on our team," Williams said in a Tuesday press conference. "Most  teams when they get on the court, certain players don't like each other, don't pass each other the ball."

The Wildcats were one of those teams last season and it resulted in one of Arizona's worst seasons over the course of the last quarter century.

Sean Miller's squad battled the trials and tribulations of playing in a new system with a young team. They lost five games by four points or less, and a big reason for that was a lack of chemistry. 

"We had a lot of selfish moments last year that were the reason why we lost," Williams said. 

But Miller and the Wildcats came into the season with a bad taste in its mouth from an underwhelming 2009-10 campaign. That motivated and unified this young group as they began to embark on what's turning into a truly special season. 

"When you go through something like we did a year ago and you have a lot of players who are young in the process, when you have a chance to try it again you want to do it better," MIller said in a press conference on Tuesday. "For about three months one of the things I talked a lot about not only to you guys but with our team is trying to be better than we were a year ago."

 

 

This time around, the Wildcats grew together and were weary of those selfish moments and how they doomed them last season. Arizona's won four games by two points or less this season, most memorably the Wildcats' Saturday-night one-squeaker over Washington and their triple-overtime thriller against Cal. 

It's easy to credit Williams' game-saving block against the Huskies or Momo Jones' late-game heroics against the Golden Bears, but all of that is a product of chemistry. 

"Losing by one, two points or three points (last season), I think everybody takes it to heart and that one person or couple people say, 'I could have done this or done that better, I could have played better defense,'" Williams said. "I think that's really what's going on this year."

So while a handful of the credit goes to Williams' NBA-caliber play and Arizona's depth, the Wildcats' ability to stay together in crunch time and ride chemistry to the finish line is a big reason they're on the verge of a special end to their season. 

"Sometimes in a season getting a close win can catapult you from being a good team to having a chance to do something special," MIller said. "And in our case that's really it."

Added Jesse Perry: "Once your winning and that chemistry's there, everything's flowing good together."

 

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