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Beating UCLA by their book, Arizona stays alive in the Pac-12

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LOS ANGELES -- Resiliency was the key. Pride was on the line. After receiving a huge blemish that the Arizona Wildcats could have avoided in losing to ASU on Sunday, they needed the three players with NCAA tournament experience to take them over the top against the UCLA Bruins on Thursday during the Pac-12 Tournament.

The No. 4 seed Wildcats did everything by the book in a 66-58 win against the No. 5 seed Bruins in Staples Center -- their book, nobody else's.

There was no savior about to turn into Derrick Williams 2.0, and no more-responsible replica of Josiah Turner to give them their starting point guard back from suspension.

"I'm disappointed in Josiah. Hopefully this latest incident or lesson will serve us well moving forward," head coach Sean Miller said. "He's one of us, he's part of our program.

"In terms of our team (response) ... resiliency," he added. "These guys have stayed together. The three up here on the podium have never deviated."

Those three were Kyle Fogg, Jesse Perry and Solomon Hill. All of them played to their strengths. Statistically, Hill put up a Derrick Williams-like box score, scoring 25 and grabbing 12 rebounds. Fogg scored 13, but played his usual havoc-causing defense to help Arizona hold UCLA's Lazeric Jones to 5-of-16 shooting. Perry, though undersized against, well, everyone he was matched against, scored 16 and grabbed 12 rebounds.

"As often is the case in March, you ride the coattails of good players," Miller said. "The meaning of Jesse Solomon and Kyle to today's game is immense. These three guys are the heart and soul of our team."

Arizona went back to their identity of attacking defense and an ugly brand of attacking offense. The former was proved by freshman guard Nick Johnson and his four high-flying blocks. The latter put Arizona at the foul stripe 36 times for 31 makes and fouled out UCLA center Joshua Smith and forward Travis Wear.

As had been the case in their wins over the course of this season, those two things are what the recipe called for.

And considering it wasn't there against the Arizona State Sun Devils four days prior, that motivation was easy to find and fresh in the Wildcats' memories. Even when the Bruins erased a 10-point, 21-11 lead to one and later went ahead after finding themselves down by nine, Miller said he just told his players to go back to their roots.

As has been the case in the coach's postseason coaching agendas, the onus was on the players. And as the regular season has flipped to the postseason, that means the coach is leaning on the players more, trying to build their confidence.

After all, what's been taught has been taught. Asked if he made any adjustments after UCLA's run, Miller refuted any such claim.

"I think these guys will tell you that we don't make adjustments," Miller said. "We do what we do, better. We broke down a couple times, but we went back to doing what we do. I was really pleased, and I told these guys this at halftime."

As I said to preview the tournament, the Wildcats have every reason to win the tournament; they won't make the NCAA tourney without doing so.

But that large challenge is also greatly valuable growing time for Miller's coaching ways. In other words, they won't go anywhere in the Big Dance unless they needed that much pressure, anyway.

Tomorrow, the Wildcats face the hottest team in the Pac-12, the every-dangerous Oregon State Beavers, themselves brimming with confidence after four wins in a row and a toppling of the No. 1 seed Washington Huskies.

Said Miller in a statement of the obvious:

"The objective in March is to keep winning and don't stop."

That they did, and they'll need another Wildcat-written effort in continuing on.