Coach Sean Miller’s Wildcats have fared predictably well in their first phase of Pac-12 conference play. The team has gone 4-1 to this point. Arizona’s lone defeat came at Oregon State, a game in which shots were not falling all night long. Other than that, the well-rounded Wildcats have proven they are the team to beat in the Pac-12.
Arizona’s continued regular season success should not come as a surprise. It all starts with Miller’s discipline, as a coach, which rubs off on each and every player in the locker room. The Arizona players are finally showing the body language and mentality of a championship contender and the skill and swagger of a force to be reckoned with down the road.
"We played with incredible energy and effort," Miller said of Arizona’s win over Utah. "It was about us being at our best and obviously we’re never perfect but outrebounding them 40-19, I think, says a lot about how hard we competed and a lot of the good things that happened during (Saturday’s) game."
Arizona wiped away Utah’s dreams of being the sole conference leader. Utah averaged 75 points in its first four conference games. The Wildcats held Utah to just 51 points. Arizona made its statement defensively where it demonstrated its ability of being a disruptive force. Arizona gives up just under 59 points per game and has the highest defensive rebounding percentage in the nation.
The Wildcats’ respectable offense is 11th in the country, shooting a tad under 49 percent. Arizona has a solid rotation of players who execute on both sides of the ball. Miller orchestrates a disciplined offense led by point guard T.J. McConnell. The senior point guard is averaging 13 points and shooting 54.7 percent in conference play while adding 4.8 assists and 4.4 rebounds.
Reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week Stanley Johnson is physically dominant at the collegiate level. He overwhelms opponents with his muscular body, superior athleticism and two-way skillset. He is averaging 14.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals on the year and is an integral part of Arizona’s strong defensive attack.
The front line of Kaleb Tarczewski, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Brandon Ashley has distinguished itself as the chemistry has started to more fully integrate. Arizona has a highly capable bench with shooters in Gabe York and Elliott Pitts and progressing freshmen in Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Dusan Ristic.
Tarczewski is a big reason the Wildcats have the best defensive rebounding percentage and give up the least percentage of offensive rebounds. His presence in the middle benefits the rest of his teammates. Hollis-Jefferson is another potent ingredient in Arizona’s defense. He can defend both on the perimeter and the interior. Ashley, who is shooting 49.3 percent, has been aggressive the last two games collecting 19 rebounds.
Circumstances are shaping up nicely as the Wildcats get ready to play a pair of road games in the San Francisco Bay Area. Stanford, first on the menu, is 13-4 on the year and on a 3-game win streak. Cal, the weekend opponent, is on the opposite side currently riding a four-game skid. The Wildcats go on this road trip with momentum having won two important home games this past weekend. They will need to demonstrate a tough demeanor and even fiercer mentality in Thursday’s nationally televised matchup with Stanford.