A new sanctuary
In the early stages of an architectural improvement plan involving almost every Arizona sports facility, the first team to be dealt a nicer hand was the one with the most history — men's basketball.
Head coach Sean Miller's squad had been forced to use the visiting basketball locker room since mid-August, but the Wildcats moved back into their revamped home inside McKale Center on Jan. 4. The team's new second home includes raised sinks to accommodate taller basketball players, a lounge, televisions to scout or play video games on, and point guard Momo Jones' favorite addition: showers.
""It's like 20 showerheads,"" Jones said. ""It's just water coming from everywhere. It's beautiful.
""That's what us kids like,"" Jones added. ""We like the glamour and the flashy stuff. We like to call our friends all around the country and say, ‘our locker room is better than yours' or ‘we got this amount of things in our locker room.'""
While the space is the same square footage as the old locker room, there's no question it will provide a homey environment for the current players, all while making a strong recruiting tool. There, branding Arizona's basketball history and providing a fresh atmosphere all come together.
""The locker room, you can make a case, is a lot of times the epicenter for a college basketball player,"" Miller said. ""It builds camaraderie, friendship.
""From a competitive perspective, we want to be able to represent our program recruiting. It's more up to date.""
Sophomores Kevin Parrom and Jones could hardly make a comparison to their old space, let alone the decrepit visiting locker room they vacated.
Jones said they didn't write any smack talk on the walls for future opponents to read. There was no need.
""I don't want to be in that ever again,"" Parrom said. ""Go in there and be depressed.""
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The Wildcats (14-3, 3-1 Pacific 10 Conference) started the break on a rocky road, struggling against Cal-State Fullerton, getting blasted by BYU in Salt Lake City and nearly losing to NAU. They did pick up a road win against a sub-par North Carolina State team and most recently swept the northern California schools at home.
Perhaps the biggest question mark came on the road against the zone-happy Oregon schools, what many would consider the easiest of Pac-10 road trips. Oregon State defeated Arizona 76-75 as leading-scorer Derrick Williams — who is on the midseason Top 30 list for the John R. Wooden player of the year award — struggled with his assertiveness.
""We have to look at Derrick (Williams) a little more,"" Parrom said. ""At the same time, he has to make himself assertive in the paint. Our main focus when they play zone is to get to Derrick in the paint. When they take that option away, we have some problems.""
The ability to get the ball to Williams is the main reason teams play zone instead of man defense, Miller said. Leading to tentativeness on the glass, zones have also hurt Arizona's rebounding.
""We got to be the same team, same dudes, day in and day out, whether it's a zone, man-to-man, press,"" Jones said. ""Our bread is buttered when we rebound the ball. You rebound, you get it out, you push it, you advance it; the defense can't set up.""
After Miller spoke with Williams about his aggressiveness following the OSU loss, the forward scored a career-high 31 points against the Golden Bears on Thursday, shooting a school record 22 free throws in the process.
""Derrick has some real god-given ability. He has such a clever knack for getting fouled,"" Miller said. ""That's something that you have to evaluate like how we're playing on offense. It's both field goals attempts and free throws attempts.""
But a two-game winning streak came against teams many picked in the lower-half of the Pac-10.
""I think it shows how much work we have ahead of us,"" said forward Jamelle Horne. ""That's great for us because we have so much more room to grow.""
Horne benched, rises against Stanford
Arizona's lone senior, Horne, lost his starting power forward spot to junior Jesse Perry on Dec. 22's route of Robert Morris University at home.
But Sunday's 67-57 win against Stanford saw the oft-inconsistent Horne score 16 points and grab 12 rebounds. Most notably, he hit two clutch 3-pointers and grabbed four offensive rebounds to put away the Cardinal.
While Miller hinted that Horne might regain his starting position, Horne said he's fine coming off the bench.
""I would honestly like coming off the bench,"" Horne said. ""I like taking the first four minutes to take a look at the game.""