It was one of the few times the ultra-competitive Sean Miller admitted he felt a little bad for an opponent, but it made sense. The Arizona Wildcats beat the WSU Cougars -- already picked to finish at the bottom of the Pac-12 -- by a 60-25 score. WSU was without leading scorer DaVonte Lacy, and that was something outside of the Cougs' control.
It was awkward to go against Washington State last Thursday, Miller admitted during the weekly Pac-12 coaches teleconference call.
"Yeah, no question about it," he said. "For me not to say Washington State wasn't playing shorthanded would almost be irresponsible. You take that on the road, playing in that hostile environment, one thing can lead to the next. I think that was more the story than how hard or well we played defensively.
"It's really unfair to judge that. You kind of chalk it up to something you don't see a lot of."
Adam Butler of PacHoops had this tidbit about just how many times UA forced the Cougars into a late shots, and how few of times the Cougars hit those shots.
@ZachEClark Finally looked at WSU late offense (30 sec or later) vs. AZ: 23% of their FGA came tardy. WSU off averages 14% late AZ D avg 13%— Adam Butler (@pachoopsab) January 7, 2014
The UCLA Bruins are up on Thursday, and the first thing to know is that Steve Alford's offense is very good with scorers like Jordan Adams and Zach LaVine being set up by point forward Kyle Anderson. UCLA ranks second in the NCAA by shooting 52.7 percent from the floor. Arizona has the sixth-best field goal defense, allowing just 36.6 percent. The Bruins score an eight-best 87.1 points per game and pass the ball quite well, ranking fifth in total assists per outing.
They're playing fast, too.
"It's one thing to like to play up-tempo and it's another to have the ability to do it," Alford said. " John wooden quote: 'We want to play fast, we want to play quick but we don't want to be in a hurry.' I think we've improved defensively a little in the last three weeks. That should help our offense."
Of course, the Bruins haven't faced a team like Arizona before. Then again, the Wildcats haven't faced an offense that can score like this since playing a tough game against Michigan. And with Arizona coming off a testy game against the Washington Huskies and their successful mid-range offense -- well, for a half -- there's reason to believe UCLA will make it a good game.
Still, Alford sees it as a huge test.
"I think of our 14 opponents, this Is by far the best defensive team we've played to date," he said. "They're athletic, big physical. They keep people in front."
More on Kyle Anderson later.
Nick Johnson on SI Wooden Watch
Because everyone's eyes go straight to Aaron Gordon, transfer T.J. McConnell or even the general frontcourt, Nick Johnson's importance gets lost. He's also positionless, which sort of hurts as well. Apparently, he didn't get any invite to a skills camp this summer, according to Kelli Anderson of SI.com.
Is he too diverse in his skillset for his own good, at least when it comes to getting the proper respect?
"Nick Johnson is the one kid on the team who knows all five positions on our team," says assistant Book Richardson, "and he knows all five positions on the other team."
Did we mention that he's also the Wildcats' leading scorer, with 16 points a game?
The article also calls Johnson a veteran, heart-and-sole, defensive role model and even recruiter. So he's getting respect there.
Kelli Anderson ranked Arizona do-it-all guard Nick Johnson ninth on her watch list, but apparently it's been hard for those across the nation to see his value.
What's so weird about this team, again, is just how each piece seems irreplaceable. Really, it's a difficult argument to fight for any Arizona player as MVP.
- Three of five of NBC's college hoops writers had Arizona in a BCS National Championship game. You know, if basketball worked like football.