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Monday, December 22, 2014 | Last updated: 12:52pm

Coaching friendship spurs UA, UF series


Sean Miller and Billy Donovan met as players, and the games’ two rising coaches will now go head-to-head



The Wildcats’ meeting with the No. 10 Florida Gators on Wednesday has been a long time coming.

Head coach Sean Miller said that the series first began when he and his staff came to Tucson in the spring of 2009. Miller had a previous series planned with Gator head coach Billy Donovan when he was at Xavier, but left the school before the Musketeers played against Florida.

Miller said the series came to fruition due to his relationship with Donovan, who was a senior at Providence College when Miller took his official visit as a senior in high school. From there, Miller said, the relationship has continued because of the places both he and Donovan have coached.

“I respect him more than or as much as any coach in college basketball,” Miller said. “It’s that relationship that got this series started.”

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By Janice Biancavilla / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Janice Biancavilla/ Daily Wildcat Arizona Wildcats defeat NAU 53-39 on Dec. 3 at McKale Center. Josiah Turner 11

The Wildcats will play in Gainesville, Fla., tomorrow, and the Gators will play in McKale Center next season. Arizona also hosted San Diego State on Nov. 23, and will host Clemson on Saturday.

“We want to be able to play great programs on our home court, and to do that you have to go to theirs as well,” Miller said.

Turner might start

Although Miller said the lineup for Wednesday night’s game wasn’t final, he said that there was “no question” that freshman guard Josiah Turner could return to the starting line up.

Miller said Turner had been practicing better and he’s been evaluating Turner’s progress based on his everyday practice performances, not necessarily how he’s been playing during games.

“He knows what college basketball and life as a student athlete is all about, much more so than he would have this summer,” Miller said. “It’s every day. That’s the expectations at Arizona. Not every other day, or once every three or four days, you do a great job in practice.”

The last time Turner started was Arizona’s first game of the year against Valparaiso on Nov. 7.

Hill garners Pac-12 Player of the Week

Junior forward Solomon Hill was named Pac-12 Player of the Week for his performances against New Mexico State University and NAU. The 6-foot-6, 226-pound Los Angeles native averaged 13.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5 assists through both games.

“He’s just really a valuable player for us. He right now is our team’s best player,” Miller said on Monday. “The fact that he got Pac-12 Player of the Week is an honor that he deserved because his performance at New Mexico State was a really, really pivotal performance.”

‘No comment’ on Sidiki

Miller said he wouldn’t comment on the status of former Wildcat Sidiki Johnson, who was officially dismissed from the team on Sunday. A press release announced that Johnson intended to transfer to another school.

Miller would not confirm if Johnson was still enrolled at the UA, or if he was in Tucson. He did not say if there were red flags that he noticed previously in the season.

“I’m not going to comment on Sidiki Johnson,” Miller said.

Johnson made three appearances for the Wildcats, totaling seven minutes and one point on one made free throw.

Miller said he wouldn’t comment after Johnson transfers or when the semester is over. Johnson was suspended indefinitely on Nov. 21.

No easy games

Arizona’s season has been riddled with close games, with the largest margin of victory coming against NAU on Saturday. The Wildcats defeated the Lumberjacks 53-39.

But Miller said the close games could help prepare Arizona down the road in conference and postseason play but added that the closeness could come with consequences.

“I do think it’s helped us,” Miller said. “We’ll see the benefits of that down the road where maybe we’re more comfortable in close games.

“The negative is it can really wear you out a little bit. Not a little bit; it can wear you out a lot, mentally and physically.”

The Wildcats play Florida on Wednesday before traveling back across the country to play Clemson on Saturday and then heading to Seattle to face Gonzaga on Dec. 17.

Miller said he wished that Arizona could have a situation where some choice players could see more time based on the Wildcats’ leads. He specifically cited Angelo Chol, who he said could have played more on Saturday against NAU.


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