Arizona basketball notes: rocky but successful start to Pac-12 play
Things did not come easily for the No. 4 Arizona men’s basketball team in the opening weekend of Pac-12 play. A judgment call helped the Wildcats escape with a win against Colorado and Utah had a shot to win in the waning moments of the game, both of which contributed to Arizona falling a spot behind one-loss Louisville in the AP Poll.
When senior guard Mark Lyons looks at it, though, all he sees is a perfect 14-0 record.
“There are a lot of teams in the country that wish they were 14-0, in our [same] boat,” Lyons said.
Only Duke, Michigan and Wyoming remain alongside Arizona with perfect starts to the season, but the last few wins haven’t been easy for the Wildcats. While Lyons said he cherishes the great start, he’s also not satisfied with where the team is.
Arizona freshman forward Angelo Chol, 30, is defended by two Utah players in the opening minutes of the Wildcats' match-up against the Utah Utes in McKale Center on Feb. 11, 2012.
“We’re a team that just wants to get better,” Lyons said. “We’re not like the ‘Fat Cats’ who are just happy with 14-0. From our perspective we just take it one game at a time … If we win, we win. If we lose, we just got to learn from it.”
One reason why head coach Sean Miller felt the team had a sluggish start to conference play was the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic tournament it won over the winter break.
The three-game tournament in Hawaii offered some important challenges to the team, Miller said, but it had the side effect of disrupting the team’s normal schedule. That lack of a routine didn’t put Arizona in the best light for the opening weekend of Pac-12 play, and it was reflected in the outcomes of the two games.
“We return to normalcy for the first time in a while and I believe we’ll benefit from that,” Miller said. “This past weekend we were fortunate to be 2-0.”
Arizona picked up victories against Miami and No. 16 San Diego State, both of which will be key come seeding for the NCAA Tournament. The Diamond Head Classic required a significant chunk of time, though, making Miller re-evaluate playing in another tournament around Christmas time.
“It’s so hard to do that because it’s really a seven-day journey … And then you have to fit Christmas in,” Miller said. “Your players need to have the opportunity to either go home or recharge their batteries.”
The Wildcats played San Diego State on Christmas and then had several days off to celebrate the holidays. Lyons felt that the team would be clicking a lot better right now if they didn’t have the break, but players needed to have the chance to see their families.
“I’m not the type that has excuses and stuff like that but (playing in the tournament) was kind of tough,” Lyons said. “We had a long stretch — 20 days — that honestly took a lot from our bodies.”
Dwindling roles for Chol and York
Arizona started the season with a 10-deep rotation, but as the season has progressed, the minutes for sophomore forward Angelo Chol and freshman guard Gabe York have quickly shrunk.
York played in the first five games for the Wildcats, though in a limited reserve role, but has only played in three games since.
Chol has seen court action in every game this season, yet he’s only getting 8.6 minutes of play, more than three minutes less than he averaged as a freshman. In the Wildcats’ last three contests Chol has also averaged just three minutes a game.
“We believe in Angelo [Chol].” Miller said. “As we’ve gone smaller for lengths of time, and you take into consideration [the three freshmen big men], he hasn’t played as much. Angelo brings some great things to the table and his best basketball is ahead of him.”
Chol, a sophomore, is actually younger than freshmen big men Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski and didn’t start playing basketball until seventh grade. Miller said the time will come for both him and York as they develop as players.
Chol is averaging exactly 2.0 points and 2.0 minutes per game this season, while York has 23 points in his 50 minutes of play this season.