It will be talked about all week as the main headline going into the second round NCAA tournament matchup between Arizona and Memphis will be Tigers' head coach Josh Pastner going up against his alma mater.
He was a student, a player and eventually an assistant coach at Arizona and it is no secret that his heart is in Tucson. But now as a head coach, perhaps one of his toughest games he will ever have to coach will come on Friday against Arizona.
Wildcats head coach Sean Miller was asked at length about his first tournament game as the leader of Arizona and going up against one of Arizona's favorite people of the past 30 years. It is business as usual for Miller, who respects what Pastner has done with Memphis so far.
"I think for such a young team and Josh has really done a great job to get into the tournament," said Miller. "Watching the development of their team, to win a conference tournament is very difficult and if you put that same tournament on the opponents home court then it's virtually impossible.
"They had an incredible comeback win against UTEP that allowed them to be in the tournament so from just that perspective, cannot say enough good things about the job he's doing."
The makeup of Memphis is a lot like what Arizona has seen, especially lately, with the style of play that the Tigers are accustomed to. Players like Joe Jackson and Will Barton love to get out on the break and will be tough for Arizona to stop.
"They love to play in transition," explained Miller. "They have a number of players that can score and it seems like their team plays with a lot of confidence on offense. A lot of that is probably youthful confidence, they believe in themselves as players but if you look at their scoring it is balanced."
Pastner has done a great job of recruiting which is known as possibly his number one strength. Last summer he inked a top five recruiting class with players like Jackson and Tarik Black, who both are from the city of Memphis.
Getting players from the city is what has made Memphis great over the years.
"That is the identity of Memphis," said Miller. "It always has been with Larry Finch, Penny Hardaway, the great teams for forever. Memphis is one of the great cities in our country that produces talent and Josh is very smart for thinking that way. It looks to me that he is doing a great job as well."
Arizona is coming off a heartbreaking loss at the hands of the Washington Huskies when Isaiah Thomas made a fall away jump shot at the buzzer in overtime. No team likes to enter the dance off of a loss but Miller says that the conference tournament gave the team a great deal of learning experience.
"I think you really have to approach a conference tournament with great seriousness because you can learn some lessons," explained Miller. "Every game you play in a conference tournament you start to feel like you are playing in the NCAA tournament. The fact that we were able to play three games in three days and play our third game as an overtime game on CBS with a lot at stake; we've learned a lot of lessons during that weekend."
Another plus was that Arizona was able to play well while still learning some lessons along the way. Solomon Hill had a good three game stretch and Derrick Williams was able to flex his muscles a bit as well.
While a team wants to play well at this time of the season, Miller thinks defense is a strong point right now.
"I really feel confident in telling you that we played with great effort and energy on defense, especially Derrick in particular did," said Miller. "Some of the baskets that were made were made by pretty good players. Two of the three games we played against NCAA tournament teams so you can play really good defense and they still make the shot.
"But I liked our disposition, our effort and our concentration on defense a great deal. I thought it was much improved from the previous four games that we played leading into the conference tournament. That's why for us it's to keep on that track because you cannot win trading baskets from this point on."
This will be the first time that Pastner faces Arizona as a head coach and the game being in the NCAA tournament raises the stakes up a lot. Miller understands the impact that Pastner has had on Tucson and the basketball program but for Friday, he will just be another opponent.
"It is never easy to follow a coach like John Calipari who is dynamic in his approach but (Josh) has really done a great job," said Miller. "I wish we weren't playing him because he has meant so much for Arizona but never-the-less that is the game that we're playing so we are getting ready."
Miller aware of Memphis' challenge
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