Arizona Wildcats appreciate No. 1 ranking, remained focused
For Arizona basketball fans, it is time to rejoice and celebrate being the nation’s top team for the first time in more than a decade.
As for the Wildcats, it is time to focus and not become drunk on early success.
“We know we’re trying to accomplish a lot this year,” said head coach Sean Miller. “We believe in our team and I think so far so good in that every day [we’re] trying to be a team … Everyone works hard and is trying to improve. And that’s not going to change whether we’re ranked No. 1 or whether we would be ranked 15th right now.”
When he first took the reins as Arizona’s sixth head coach in 87 years, it was expected to take longer than just his fifth season for Miller to take the program to where it is now. He said his five-year plan when initially arriving to Tucson was to just still be coaching at the UA.
Ryan Revock/ The Daily Wildcat UA junior guard Nick Johnson shoots a three-pointer against UNLV on Saturday in the McKale Center.
“It’s hard. It could very easily not have worked,” Miller said. “I think about Derrick’s [Williams] class; many times that’s one of the least regarded and you can argue that’s the one that really solidified things here early on and bridged the past to the future.”
Miller said one of the team’s top priorities this month is to develop the depth of the bench more. So far this season, the UA has mainly used freshman power forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and sophomore guard Gabe York.
The sixth man, Hollis-Jefferson, leads the entire bench in minutes (22.9), points (8.8), rebounds (4.7) and assists (1.7) per game as well as field goal percentage (.578). Meanwhile, York plays an average of 18.3 minutes per game and leads all Wildcats in free throw (.800) percentage, second only to Nick Johnson.
But besides Hollis-Jefferson and York, the rest of the bench rarely sees the floor. Apart from the sixth and seventh men, senior guard Jordin Mayes is the only other Wildcat who has played in all nine games this season, averaging just 5.9 minutes per contest.
All other UA bench players have appeared in just four games or less.
“Elliott [Pitts] has been practicing really well, he’s shooting the ball really well,” junior guard Nick Johnson said. “Zach [Peters] is just starting to get back into the flow of things. He hasn’t really played in a while. Later on down the road, they could be a big part of our team.”
Consistency on defense continues to be Miller’s message to the team. After Saturday’s win over UNLV, he told them while it will help to be better on offense, controlling the glass and staying true to their identity on defense is most important.
Currently, Arizona is 90th in the NCAA, averaging 77.8 points per game. However the Wildcats’ stingy defense ranks seventh in the country, allowing just 59.2 points per contest.
Arizona (9-0) puts its No. 1 ranking on the line for the first time Wednesday as it continues nonconference play at home against New Mexico State (7-4) of the Western Athletic Conference at 7 p.m.
“We’re jumping right back into it, staying focused,” sophomore power forward Brandon Ashley said. “We don’t really have a chance to think about what we’ve done and what we have. We really just have to focus on the next game and go one at a time.”
—Follow Joey Putrelo @JoeyPutrelo