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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona basketball drawing from experience in preparation for Pac-12 title game

Colin Darland
Colin Darland / Daily Wildcat

LOS ANGELES — Arizona is no stranger to deep runs in the conference basketball tournament.

Just a season ago, the Wildcats won two games in as many days before falling an Isaish Thomas 3-pointer shy of winning the Pac-12 Conference Tournament. Now, 364 days later, Arizona finds itself in nearly the same position — one the Wildcats may find a little too similar.

“Oh man, this was the exact locker room we were in,” senior forward Jesse Perry said of last year’s championship game loss to Washington. “I remember it like yesterday. I really don’t want that to happen again. I want to go home with the championship.”

Arizona is using that Washington loss as some extra motivation to make sure it avoids the heartbreaking feeling of coming up inches short of a conference title. But while the loss stings, it’s the entire week of last year’s experience that’s the biggest help to the Wildcats.

They have the experience of playing a game on three straight days and learning what worked or what didn’t. At the Division I level, that type of experience can be invaluable. But losing on a “cold blooded” buzzer-beater is something that gets a team through early morning workouts and late nights in the gym.

“A lot of the seniors, we take that game and use it as fire,” senior guard Brendon Lavender said. “It was a learning experience.”

Arizona’s leaders like Solomon Hill, Kyle Fogg and Perry have made sure that this year’s freshman crop knows what to expect during the rigorous tournament schedule that can require that a team plays four games in four days.

The advice from the Wildcats’ upperclassmen hasn’t fallen on deaf ears.

Freshman guard Nick Johnson played arguably the best stretch of basketball of his UA career during the first five minutes of the second half in Friday’s 72-61 win over Oregon State. Johnson said that Fogg has been his biggest teacher in the days leading up the tournament, getting the 6-foot-2 freshman ready for what’s to come.

“I think I’m ready,” Johnson said. “As of now, adrenaline has taken over. We want to make the Tournament and that’s the biggest thing.”

Johnson said that UA head coach Sean Miller’s robot-like preparation makes the transition between games easier for the Wildcats, and Miller said that preparation would be for naught without Arizona’s offseason strength and conditioning program.

“These guys have lifted weights religiously since October … they take care of themselves,” Miller said. “I think they’re going to be fine.”

Miller also said that the number of games in a short time period is “what makes playing in a conference tournament so special,” and that games oftentimes boil down to which team is more resilient.

If that’s the case, the Wildcats are in good shape. They’re as battle tested as any team in the conference and are 2-1 on the season against potential championship game matchups Colorado and California.

But at the end of the day, Arizona has a bigger goal — it just likely won’t be possible without a win on Saturday.

“This game is bigger than (a conference championship),” Lavender said. “We’re trying to get to the NCAA Tournament. There’s plenty of pressure on us.”

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