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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Upcoming schedule will test Wildcats

Arizona’s played eight games in 26 days, and its freshmen are experiencing the daily grind of college basketball. Meanwhile, the Wildcats’ veterans are playing 30-plus minutes a game for the first time in their careers.

Even head coach Sean Miller is feeling the burn.

“I don’t know if personally I’ve gone through a harder month than the one we just went through in November,” he said after the Wildcats defeated NAU on Saturday.

Well, it’s about to get harder.

Starting Wednesday, the Wildcats will spend their next 10 days in Gainesville to take on No. 12 Florida, in Tucson to host a well-tested Clemson program, coming from the ACC Clemson program and finally in Seattle to face the No. 22 Gonzaga Bulldogs.

If Miller thought November was difficult, these 10 days will be nearly impossible. Sure, the Wildcats have a road win over a solid New Mexico State team. Yes they took down St. John’s in Madison Square Garden.

But Arizona also looked mediocre in back-to-back games against Mississippi State and San Diego State. Florida and Gonzaga aren’t San Diego State or Mississippi State.

The Wildcats should like their chances against an average Clemson team, but Florida and Gonzaga may be the two best teams they play all season.

The Gators are a legitimate top-10 team with pedigree and a head coach in Billy Donovan that has won two national championships. Florida took No. 3 Syracuse down to the wire in the Carrier Dome and have two lethal guards in Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker, along with Bradley Beal, one of the top freshmen in the country.

“Winning at Florida for every team in the country is difficult,” Miller said. “We know that.”

And then there’s Gonzaga. While the Bulldogs are fresh off of a loss to Illinois and aren’t unbeatable by any means, they’re still a well-coached Mark Few team with a longstanding history of success.

Senior 7-footer Robert Sacre is one of the better big men in the country and could have his way with a vertically challenged Arizona team.

This isn’t to say Arizona can’t hang with the Gators and Bulldogs. They have the talent and the head coach to steal a win or two.

But if the Wildcats play like they have been, they’re in trouble. They can’t afford slow starts against Florida, and they can’t give up offensive rebounds and second-chance points against Gonzaga.

This stretch is Arizona’s first true test of the season, one that could go a long way in catapulting them toward an impressive Pac-12 season, or one that could hurt the confidence of a young team.

“The next three games are going to decide our future,” forward Solomon Hill said.

While Hill may be going a little too far with that statement, he clearly understands the importance of these three games. And after the buzzer sounds on Dec. 17 in Seattle, it will be apparent who this 2011-12 Arizona basketball team really is.

“Can we win one, can we win two? My goodness could you win three, or can you get shut out?” Miller asked rhetorically. “I think all are possible.”

— Mike Schmitz is a marketing senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu

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