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Arizona basketball: Sean Miller hopes lackluster performance vs. Washington schools serves as a wake-up call

The Wildcats may have been given too much respect too soon

NCAA Basketball: Washington at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Sean Miller’s phone didn’t stop ringing all week.

“I could’ve been the guest on every talk show known to college basketball because of what we did in L.A.,” the UA head coach said.

After sweeping the Los Angeles schools, the Arizona Wildcats quickly became the talk of college basketball.

They got their leading returning scorer back from suspension in Allonzo Trier, then dismantled a UCLA Bruins team that many pegged as a national title contender.

Suddenly, it was the Wildcats, not the Bruins or the Oregon Ducks, that were being talked up as potential national champions.

“Through the peaks and valleys of the season, this last seven days has been one accolade after another,” Miller said.

“You have to be able to handle that and it’s so much about the next day. What makes you a good team? You have to be able to do those things game in and game out.”

A young Arizona team went into Los Angeles looking to earn respect, and they certainly earned some.

Maybe even too much.

Because, a week later, the now-hyped Wildcats looked like a lesser team, even if they did manage to beat both Washington schools.

The Wildcats didn’t pull away from Washington State until the final minutes on Thursday, then trailed by as many as nine points to Washington on Sunday before finally taking control in the second half.

“We didn’t play our best in either of these two games,” Miller said. “When you’re trying to do some of the things that we’re trying to do, you have to understand how difficult it is to be ready game in and game out.

“Coming off the heels of our L.A. success, we were given a lot of respect and I think deservedly so. I don’t know how well we’ve handled that.”

The same Arizona team that was once praised for making the most of a dire situation — aka the days when the Wildcats were limited to seven or eight scholarship players — now has the weight of lofty expectations on its shoulders.

“We’ve just been that little engine that could,” Miller said. “Game by game, day by day (it was) ‘Is Trier gonna play? It looks like they’re getting better.’ And we just chopped wood, we didn’t get too far ahead of ourselves.

“All of a sudden we’re a little bit farther ahead of ourselves. A lot of people saying great things, and watching our effort level, our consistency, our togetherness, we weren’t near this week where we were coming in. We have to get that back to have great success in the second half of the Pac-12.”

The hype surrounding the Wildcats may have affected their preparation this week, as Miller said he didn’t think the team had the same level of focus as usual.

“We have to get that back,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we have a bunch of guys that are full of themselves or don’t get along. I’m not saying that. But if you see a crack in the armor, you don’t want it to grow. You want to fix it and move forward because, for a long period of time for this year’s team, we’ve been as consistent everyday as I have had and that’s why we’ve gotten to this point. All of a sudden we don’t want to lose it because things are going well.”

Miller understands the Wildcats are in good spot atop the Pac-12, and two not-so-impressive wins against the Washington schools doesn’t change that. He said they still did some good things in both games and made enough plays to earn the right to win.

Plus, the team is still working Trier into the rotation, which has the team out of sorts to an extent.

Still, Miller hopes the Wildcats’ lackluster performance this week will serve as a wake-up call before they head to the Pacific Northwest.

“I’m not gonna act like all of a sudden death is among us. We’re 20-2,” Miller said. “Nobody has to tell me that, and every game that you play is difficult. Every home game, every away game, but I think there’s always those things you can control as a coach in the effort level and the consistency of your approach has to be the same.”

“You fast forward to next Saturday, it’ll be one of the biggest games of the season, based on how good Oregon is. ...And I hope that what we just went through strengthens us so that we’re more focused and ready because we have to be ready on the road regardless of who we play.

“Sometimes you need a loss to wake you up and we don’t want that to happen.”

You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire