It was only a month ago that, after blowing a 22-point lead at ASU, that the Arizona Wildcats were winless on the road and looking very much like a team that couldn’t play well anywhere other than McKale Center.
Yet since that monumental collapse the script has been completely flipped for Arizona, which has won four straight on the road while splitting its last two homestands. The former enabled the Wildcats to stay in the hunt for the Pac-12 regular-season title after a rough start to league play, while the latter is the reason they’re technically in fifth place with two weekends left.
“We really have played very consistent on the road,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said Tuesday ahead of his team’s final road trip, to USC and UCLA. “We’ve been a very inconsistent team at home, we really have.”
At 4-3, Arizona (19-8, 9-5) is one of three Pac-12 teams currently above .500 on the road in league play along with UCLA (5-3) and ASU (4-3), a notable accomplishment because home teams are winning 67 percent of conference games (59-29) this season. At least one victory this weekend will clinch the Wildcats’ eighth winning road record in 11 seasons under Miller, who is 57-40 in Pac-12 road games.
Even getting a split, though, will be tough, both because of past history and current conditions.
“Historically the LA trip is always difficult for every team,” Miller said. “This year with the way UCLA has played over the last month, and when you look at SC, SC has three home games left and they’re playing for a lot. There’s a lot at stake this week.”
Arizona is 6-10 at the LA schools under Miller, getting swept four times including last season. It has only been swept elsewhere five other times, three of those coming at Oregon.
USC (19-9, 8-7) is 11-2 this season at the Galen Center, its only Pac-12 loss coming to Colorado, and is firmly on the NCAA tournament bubble. UCLA (17-11, 10-5) has won its last five at Pauley Pavilion after starting 6-4, putting itself in position to earn a share of the conference title after sitting at 7-6 in late December.
Half of Arizona’s 10 main contributors grew up or played high school basketball in the Los Angeles area, which should add to what is traditionally a strong Wildcat fan contingent on this trip. But it still pales in comparison to the welcoming atmosphere of McKale, where prior to the past two seasons the UA was nearly unbeatable.
Arizona has dropped eight of its last 28 home games after winning 96 of the previous 100.
“Watching us play at home, it’s really been a head scratcher, because even in the same game we’ve been two different teams,” Miller said. “On the road we’ve been more of the same. I think our team in some ways is very easily distracted. We’re dependent on a lot of players who have a lot at stake as first-year players.”