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NCAA Tournament: Arizona Wildcats are ‘excited’ to be in the West Region

The farthest the Wildcats will have to travel is to San Jose

Arizona v Oregon Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

After beating out the UCLA Bruins and Oregon Ducks for the Pac-12 Tournament championship, there was some optimism that the Arizona Wildcats could sneak their way into a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament — most likely in the South region — but to no avail.

Instead, the selection committee handed the Wildcats the No. 2 seed in the West, and they’re OK with that.

“I’ve learned that when you get a high seed that’s really what you look for. And if you have a chance to stay close to home or not travel as far to the games, staying in the same time zone, all that’s positive for your team,” head coach Sean Miller said.

Now that it’s in the West region, Arizona’s three stops will be in Salt Lake City, San Jose, and Glendale should it make the Final Four.

San Jose is the most distant from Tucson, and even it is only a two-hour flight away.

That matters, per Miller.

“I think it does. I really believe it does,” Miller said. “We’ve done very well when we’ve been placed in the West. We haven’t taken that final step of getting to the Final Four, but you advance to the Elite Eight a few times and that’s the reason you’ve been in, I think we feel very good. Not that that’s going to happen again, but again the seed that we have, the location that we have, we’re excited to have that as our path.”

Better late than early

Arizona’s First Round game Thursday against North Dakota is scheduled to tip at 6:50 p.m. PST in Salt Lake City.

It’s technically considered the “late game”, but that term is relative, apparently.

“That’s early,” Miller joked. “7 is early. We’re used to those 9 o’clock starts.”

In this instance, it’s better to be late than early. Miller said when he was at Xavier, his team once had a noon tip-off and it turned out to be an eery atmosphere.

“If you play a noon tip-off it’s almost bizarre because you’re playing on a weekday and every time you picture the NCAA Tournament, you picture playing in front of this packed, sold out arena and in that case it was barely filled,” he said. “A noon tip-off on a weekday, it doesn’t always feel [right]. So I think at least the pageantry will be in place [on Thursday].”

Arizona may not be so fortunate in the later rounds, and could have one of those dreaded noon tip-offs, but Miller is confident his team will be prepared no matter what.

“Among the many things that I admire about our team is that we have played at 11 a.m. I think twice, we’ve played in different time zones, we’ve played in very, very late games and we’ve been ready,” he said. “Other than the one game at Oregon — and I’m not sure we weren’t ready for that game, they just were that good on that night — we’ve been really consistent with our approach and hopefully we’ll be that way on Thursday night.”

About that altitude

One factor at play when taking the court in Salt Lake City is the altitude. While it’s not quite like mile-high Denver, Salt Lake City’s elevation is 4,226 feet, which is about twice as high as Tucson’s.

That said, Arizona already has experience playing in altitude since, well, it usually plays in Salt Lake City once a year when it visits the Utah Utes.

Plus, the elevation is actually higher in Boulder, Colorado where the Wildcats also frequently venture to play the Colorado Buffaloes. Either way, Miller downplayed the significance of the altitude.

“I think there’s a fine line between not making too big of a deal of it,” he said.

Miller then recited the late Jerry Tarkanian’s take on the matter.

“Don’t worry about it. It only bothers you if you’re outside,” Miller said, quoting the Hall of Fame coach. “That’s the other way of looking at it.”

You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire