Arizona has accomplished its first goal of the season by becoming champions of the Pac-10 conference with a record of 14-4. The feat is no doubt impressive considering the program almost hit rock bottom but in just his second year, Sean Miller has taken a team with plenty of question marks and brought it back to the top of the mountain.
However, the celebration cannot last past this previous weekend when the Wildcats cut down the nets after a 90-82 win over the Oregon Ducks. Tournament season has graced America and what is one of the most popular months in sports can bring a fan base and a program alike heartache or joy.
On Thursday, Arizona will start the Pac-10 tournament in Los Angeles with the top seed and will play the winner of the Oregon State and Stanford matchup on Wednesday. Two weeks ago, the Wildcats visited Los Angeles and took a stumble as they lost both matchups to USC and UCLA.
Miller says that the previous trip to L.A. will help the team regain their focus as they travel back.
"I think our most recent trip to L.A. will help that more than anything," said Miller. "The last time we went there we left with two loses and lost to two good teams. But if we are honest with ourselves, we really got away from the things that make us a good team.
"I think we'll be more focused and more ready. I believe we deserve to have some confidence and try to take advantage of the fact that we are the number one seed in this tournament."
Arizona has earned its confidence as it has beaten every team in the conference at least once this season. With a large portion of the team being from the greater Los Angeles area, having the top rank in the tournament could be a positive for the Wildcats as far as how they play.
Many players again will have family and friends in attendance which is something that Miller says is an advantage in the big picture but could have affected play two weeks ago.
"It could have," explained Miller. "But I don't want to look at that as a negative because recruiting that area is so important to us and if you look at the makeup of our team those guys form the biggest group of players that we have. You want them to be able to go home and play well and have great performances at home."
Arizona has proved that it is the top team in the conference and will have to play hard, but under control for the entire weekend.
"I'm hoping they are more relaxed and more poised," said Miller. "I know this, it is not that they want to do something different than they have been doing all season it is just when you are in front of family and friends sometimes you want it so bad that it works against you."
It is the time of year that separates the great teams from just the good. While Arizona has made strides into the right direction, not a single person within the program is waiting for the future when they have right now to capitalize on what Miller and his assistant coaches have built so far.
One aspect that makes Arizona such a tough team besides having conference Player of the Year Derrick Williams and a Coach of the Year in Miller is its depth. When it seems that you can wear down the Wildcats, they can throw another five guys on the floor that will bring automatic energy off the bench.
Depth has played to their advantage all season so far and Miller will take the same approach to this game as he has in every game this season.
"We're just going to play to win," explained Miller. "The thing about it is if you don't win the first game than depth is not going to go beyond that. You won't have a second chance and you'll be done. We just have to play real well and like we talked about we don't play a day earlier and the other team does and hopefully we can play well enough to make it to the semi-finals."
There is even more incentive to winning the Pac-10 tournament for Arizona as a good showing will let the selection committee know that the Wildcats are worthy of a high seed in the NCAA tournament. In recent years, Arizona has had to travel a ways for the first weekend of the Big Dance but being close to home is a priority.
"The less travel the better," explained Miller. "If we can be two hours away instead of four, then great. If you ask me what seeding means then that's the thing you would pay attention to. It is also good for our fans if they can get there easier."
The next step for Miller and company is to perform well in March, which is unchartered territory for this cohesive group.
Miller confident team will be focused
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