Miller ready for UCLA as team improves

Arizona has been playing some of the best basketball it has played all season in the past two games. Read on to discover Sean Miller's thoughts on those games and the upcoming match-up with UCLA.

Heading into the spring signing period a year ago, Sean Miller and his coaches at Arizona had the best recruiting class of the year. A few late commitments allowed UCLA and Kentucky to challenge Arizona for the top spot.

The Bruins were eventually crowned with the top recruiting class in the nation, as Ben Howland was able to convince Shabazz Muhammad, Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson, and Tony Parker to join him in Westwood. UCLA struggled to start the season as Muhammad was suspended by the NCAA for three games and took time to get acclimated to the team.

"In fairness to UCLA, they went through a lot of different things in November, not just Shabazz and the uncertainty of when he will be back," Miller said of UCLA's slow start. "Josh Smith being there and then not being there. Tyler Lamb was a really good player a year ago. He was injured and then didn't return.

"Like all of us, with freshmen, regardless of how talented they are, it takes time, especially with defense. When you watch them, they were very much a work in progress at the beginning of the year. They progressed in December and around Christmas, they started to hit their stride more."

Miller will have his team ready for the Bruins when both teams tip off on Thursday night in the annual white-out game at McKale Center. He may even pull a few things from Oregon, a team that has beaten both Arizona and UCLA this season.

"Oregon has a style that they bring to the table regardless of who they play; they attack on offense and defense," he said. "That game (between Oregon and UCLA) changed in the second half when Oregon forced a couple turnovers from UCLA, but for a long time it was anybody's game."

The Wildcats will enter the matchup having lost only one game on the season (to Oregon), but is seeing improvement over the past two weeks. Arizona followed the loss with big victories over Oregon State and Arizona State on the road. Miller believes that his team is getting better as it gets more comfortable with each other.

"They are more familiar with each other and more familiar with the team and what we do," he said. "The continued harping on the things we need to get better at that I think eventually every player has to realize, ‘Boy, he's right, if we don't, we won't be able to become the team we want to be.' Whether that's a loss or continued practice or watching film, we're working hard on the things that will make us a better team."

The Wildcats' recent game against the Sun Devils showed Miller that his team is making the steps in the right direction. It was a solid win over a good Arizona State team and the Arizona coach knows that it was a better game than his team had played in a while.

"I also think that we are realizing that there are some things that we do very well," Miller said. "The Arizona State game combined forces both on defense and offense where we played some of our best basketball during that forty minutes."

Arizona will be facing a UCLA team that is on the rise, but that doesn't mean that the Wildcats aren't also on the rise. As the Bruins and the other teams in the conference continue to grow and get better, Sean Miller's team is also improving.

One of the main weaknesses for Arizona this season has been poor three-point defense. The Wildcats were one of the top teams in the conference a year ago, but have struggled with it this year. Part of the defensive struggles can be attributed to the freshmen, who have taken time to adjust to Arizona's defense.

"We're improving is how I would categorize our three-point defense is," Miller said. "A lot of it is effort and a lot of it is concentration. Brandon Ashley, for example, played a huge role on defense for us and it was kind of a silent role, but he was in the right place more times than he wasn't.

"He executed and worked really hard. He was determined and that spread and made our defense better with just one guy. That's how it works, but our effort level on defense was better against Arizona State and that's a fact."

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