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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Commentary: UA embraces a different March

Freshman guard Momo Jones attempts to pass out of a double team during the Wildcats? 71-69 victory against Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif. Jones banked in a 16-footer as time expired to lift Arizona over the Stanford Cardinal.
Freshman guard Momo Jones attempts to pass out of a double team during the Wildcats? 71-69 victory against Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif. Jones banked in a 16-footer as time expired to lift Arizona over the Stanford Cardinal.

It’s March 1, but forget about this NCAA Tournament — that’s not why Sean Miller came to Tucson.

Miller is building the mold, the process and the workflow to construct his own brand of basketball with his own guys.

Those leftover from the previous regimes will soon be graduated, phased out or just unwelcome.

“”I’m not for everybody,”” Miller said earlier this month. “”As a coach, you … gotta’ have some guys playing your way going good or bad. I don’t want a guy playing our way just when we’re winning.””

Who knew how significant those words would hold up at this weekend’s Bay Area trip against California and Stanford.

Somewhere between Berkeley and Palo Alto, he decided to flip the switch.

Momo Jones and Derrick Williams are his brand of players — freshmen trusted to close a Pacific 10 Conference road game rather than senior Nic Wise and junior Jamelle Horne.

Jones banked a game-winning shot and scored a career-high 16 points. Williams added a smooth 24 points.

In Wise’s situation, Miller said he’s carefully pacing the team’s most relied-on legs. Fine.

“”It’s worn on him,”” Miller said after the loss at California. “”I almost feel like we’ve asked him to do so much from start to finish, and when I watch him out there, he doesn’t quite have it.””

But in Horne’s situation, the extremely gifted athlete still hasn’t found consistency — something Williams has had from the beginning.

For the first time, both Williams and Kyryl Natyazhko played on the floor at the same time for a significant amount minutes last Thursday.

Natyazhko, a true center, replaced Horne in one of the most athletic frontcourt tandems in the Pac-10. But that’s a compromise Miller must make to keep the big-picture mindset on his brand of basketball.

Horne’s inconsistencies date back to his freshman season, entering school as a five-star recruit. His nickname last season was “”Wildcard”” because nobody knew what game face he would bring on any given night.

For every night Horne grabbed double-digit rebounds, there’s another night with double zeros across the line.

Here’s his combined line from the weekend: 2-for-6 from the floor and six total rebounds in 42 minutes. That spans two games.

After the Wildcats’ loss in Berkeley, I asked both Williams and Miller the same question: Is this team the same team that started 6-3 in the conference?

No, not at all — and the first factor they both brought up was a lack of Kevin Parrom — a consensus diagnosis, realizing the loss of a hard-nosed rebounder.

They’re on the same page.

And then the long-term talk emerged, as it has frequently during Arizona’s February struggles.

“”There’s no easy solution to our situation right now as much as just continuing to work,”” Miller said. “”This is a time that you’re able to learn a lot about your future and individual players. It sticks out.””

The Wildcats finished February with a 2-5 record from wins against the Pac-10’s two worst teams: Oregon and Stanford.

Miller figured mid-February would bring peak performances and unleash the true potential of his team’s talent.

Try the opposite. The shortest month of the year couldn’t end fast enough.

The new and the old have gelled together long enough to realize Miller’s system is working. Pre-order your March 2011 Pac-10 Tournament tickets, headlined by Jones and Williams.

Everything until then is just preparation.

—Bryan Roy is an interdisciplinary studies junior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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