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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: No. 3 Arizona is starting to hit its stride

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Tyler Baker

Arizona men’s basketball head coach Sean Miller looks on the action during Arizona’s 80-53 victory over Michigan on Dec. 13 in McKale Center. Miller and the Wildcats will end non-conference play against UTEP and UNLV in the first two true road games of the season

Arizona men’s basketball is off to a perfect 11-0 start, even fixing its slow starts — and just in time.

The No. 3 Wildcats won their 11th game on Tuesday night by dispatching Oakland (4-7) with ease, 101-64. An 11-game winning streak is already impressive, but now the Wildcats have won three straight games by blowout.

It was three weeks ago that Arizona defeated Kansas State by just four and played Missouri close through much of the game. Now during finals, the Wildcats beat the Grizzlies by 37 points and Michigan by 27 points in successive games.

“I give our players a lot of credit; this is a difficult time of year for them with final exams and final papers, finishing up the semester,” UA head coach Sean Miller said. “Most of our players still have at least a final left, and in some cases, multiple papers and finals to finish up here the next couple of days.”

After slow starts against teams like Gardner-Webb, the Wildcats built up a 20-point lead after about 10 minutes against Oakland and never trailed.

“We chose this starting lineup for a reason,” Miller said. “There’s no reason that we continuously are coming to the first media timeout tied, up two, the score being 4-2, having two or four points and then from that point picking it up.”

When the Wildcats get off to good starts, opponents feel a lot of pressure because the UA’s defense is so good, forward Stanley Johnson said.

“This season, one of our main problems has been that we’ve gotten off to such slow starts,” UA forward Brandon Ashley said. “So one of our main focuses as of late is to get off to better starts and play better defense.”

The Golden Grizzlies started the game 1-for-18 from the field, as the Wildcats built up a 26-4 lead

“We definitely don’t think they were scared or anything; it’s definitely not that,” Ashley said. “They may have been cold, but I also think that we’re a very good defensive team as well.”

If you get off to a start like that on the road, you could get buried, and coming up is Arizona’s first road trip of the year, going to Texas and Nevada. On Friday, the Wildcats face UTEP (6-3), which beat Xavier 77-73.

The Wildcats are rolling at the right time as they face their toughest stretch of the season so far.

“They’ve had some good wins already, and they’re going to be ready to go,” Miller said. “If you were them, you’d be ready to go. It’s a great opportunity, and we have to be at our best on Friday night.”

After playing eight games in Tucson and three in Maui, those are Arizona’s first true road games of the season. The Wildcats travel to UNLV (6-2) on Dec. 23.

“That’s definitely going to add a little bit of toughness to the game, but at the same time, I think we’re a talented team,” Ashley said. “I think we’re a group of individuals that really focus in on the games and the task at hand, so I think we’ll be all right.”

Plus, the blowouts have provided the Wildcats with rest, despite playing five games in December already, and gave reserves a chance to play more, most notably forward Craig Victor. The freshman did not play in four games before logging 12 minutes against Utah Valley, and on Tuesday, he played 10 minutes, scoring nine points.

“Not everybody can play as much as we would like to play them, but Craig’s a talented freshman, and his time is going to come,” Miller said. “By the way, like we learned last year, the unexpected happens over the long course of a season. When you’re called upon, it’s nice when you’re prepared.”

The mood of the program is so positive right now that Miller’s game day attire is coming up in postgame interviews. Miller sported a white jacket with black vertical and horizontal stripes and a black shirt without a tie.

“I don’t do well in ties, so I gave this a different look tonight,” Miller said. “Not trying to make a statement, as much as me being more comfortable. You know, Tucson casual, you call it.”

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Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

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