Arizona may have lost the Pac-12 Tournament last season, but Sean Miller believes it provided a valuable learning lesson.
"We learned a lot in the UCLA game last year,” Miller said. “I don’t know how many people saw the game nationally, but if you consider the talent that UCLA had, I mean, that was a great game.
"It really helped us when we got in the NCAA tournament, to come off of a game played on a neutral court at that high of a level with the fanfare that went with the game. The more you get into that neutral-court environment, the more comfortable you become.”
Even though it may help prepare Arizona for what it will face a week from now, there is still one major difference.
“There’s so much familiarity in the conference tournament,” Miller said. “Sometimes it doesn’t really represent the NCAA tournament because you’re playing against teams for the third time, in some cases for the sixth time for two years, and then you get into a neutral court in the tournament and you’re playing a team for the first time ever or the first time in a decade. It’s much different from that perspective.”
In addition, Arizona's performance this week could determine its momentum headed into the NCAA Tournament.
"I think it sets the tone on a lot of fronts," Miller said. "One is how well you are playing leading into the next tournament. The stature of your own team when you look at what type of team you have and compare our team to teams at the past here at Arizona, being able to win both says a lot about how hard it is.
"It’s been a while since we have won it. In our case, in my time at Arizona, although we haven't won the conference championship, we’ve played very well and in some cases the other team has just played better."
Arizona certainly is not the only team that wants to win this week, but each team in the Pac-12 tournament may have differences in realistic goals.
'We would love to be that team that cuts down the nets in Las Vegas and I am pretty sure there are a number of others that feel the same way," Miller said. "In some cases, the conference tournament represents differences for each team.
"You have certain teams that are playing for pride, others that are trying to get a 20 win season, others that are on the bubble for a postseason tournament.
"Then you look at us and say what are we trying to accomplish? For us it’s about that we haven’t won it. It’s been some time since we’ve won it and it’s about adding to our win total leading into what really matters and that’s the NCAA tournament."
As much as the Wildcats do want to win, this week won't make or break their season.
“I guess the one thing you worry about is sometimes you can get your team beat up or hurt, and that first-round game is on you quickly,” Miller said. “So once in a while, if things don’t work out in your conference tournament, I don’t think that’s the end-all. I think we all know which ones are more important.
"I think the regular season carries more substance and weight. I don't want to take anything away from the conference tournament because being able to play your best in March on a neutral court is also very good. I just think the regular season is much more meaningful."