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Upcoming 3-game road trip could define Arizona’s season

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arizona-wildcats-pac-12-road-games-asu-washington-wsu-college-basketball-miller-mannion-green Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Playing on the road is never easy, but the Pac-12 may be one of the hardest leagues in which to have success away from home due to the amount of travel it involves as well as its unique scheduling format.

With the 12 schools lumped together into six sets of travel partners, four road trips each season involve consecutive away games with no return home in between. And in most years, one of those journeys on the road includes a third contest against your geographic rival.

That’s what the Arizona Wildcats have in store over the next two weekends, starting Saturday when they visit ASU in Tempe. That’s followed by games Jan. 30 and Feb. 1 at the Washington schools.

“Winning on the road in college basketball is very difficult, it always has been,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said Thursday. “It usually crowns the conference champion and separates maybe a fair season from a good one. Or instead of having a good one you have a great one.”

The 3-game conference road trip has been a mixed bag for Arizona under coach Sean Miller, having gone 12-12 during his tenure. Last year the Wildcats went 0-3 on a swing that began in Los Angeles and ended at ASU, which served as the start of a seven-game skid.

Road games have been a big issue for Arizona the past season-plus, as it is 4-10 on other teams’ home courts since the start of the 2018-19 campaign. The Wildcats are currently on a four-game road losing streak.

Arizona is 0-3 on the road this year, losing at No. 1 Baylor in December and then getting swept at the Oregon schools two weeks ago. And while the first two of those games were nail-biters, none have been particularly good from an offensive standpoint.

The Wildcats are shooting 37.7 percent from the field on the road this season, compared to 48.2 percent overall, and they’ve made only 27.3 percent of their 3-pointers in true road games (compared to 38.2 percent). From an efficiency standpoint, three of the UA’s six worst performances have been on the road.

“Our team is well aware that we really haven’t broken through in our road games,” Miller said. “Looking at us moving forward, the more we do it the more comfortable we get.”

Miller said winning on the road in the Pac-12 isn’t any tougher than it’s been in the past, but the results so far this season say otherwise. Entering Thursday the home teams have gone 23-9 in conference play, a .719 win percentage that is fourth-highest in Division I and a marked improvement from the 2018-19 season when Pac-12 home teams only won 59.3 percent of the time.

“No matter where you go, everyone’s going to give you their best shot against us,” freshman Josh Green said. “At the end of the day we just need to come with the right approach. I’m just going to treat it just like any other game, any other road game.”

While Green and his fellow UA freshmen have yet to win a true road game, Miller no longer considers that group to be designated by their school year because of the time they’ve put in since preseason practice began in October.

“Now they enter that phase as a freshman where they’ve started 18 games, they’ve been at this since early October,” he said. “We’re almost four months deep. At some point you look at them as, they’re freshmen but they’re different types of freshmen. We’re about 70 practices in, 18 games. People maybe look at the third week of January as maybe the midpoint of games, but add in practices and we’re more than halfway. Right about now you settle in.”

The extended road trip will also provide Arizona with a chance to pick up some key resume-building wins, as both ASU and Washington would count as Quadrant 1 victories while Wazzu would be a Q2 win.

The Wildcats, who are No. 10 in the NET rankings, are currently 1-4 in Quad 1 games though their Nov. 10 win against Illinois is on the cusp of getting upgraded as the Fighting Illini have risen to 31st in NET.