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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona can’t afford any more bad losses

Colin+Darland+%2F+Daily+Wildcat%0A%0AThe+San+Diego+State+Aztecs+silenced+McKale+Center+with+a+61-57+victory+over+the+Arizona+Wildcats+on+Wednesday%2C+November+23%2C+2011%2C+in+Tucson%2C+Ariz.+
Colin Darland
Colin Darland / Daily Wildcat The San Diego State Aztecs silenced McKale Center with a 61-57 victory over the Arizona Wildcats on Wednesday, November 23, 2011, in Tucson, Ariz.

If Arizona wants its name called on Selection Sunday without having to run the table in the Pac-12 Tournament, it needs to come away from this weekend with two more notches in the win column.

Sure, it’s only mid-January. Some would argue it’s too early for NCAA Tournament talk. The Wildcats will still have 11 games on their schedule after playing at Utah tonight and at Colorado on Saturday.

But if there’s such a thing as a must-sweep mid-January weekend series, this is it.

The Pac-12 hierarchy is starting to form, and Arizona is in the middle class. While Stanford and Cal are riding first class atop the conference, the Wildcats are stuck in coach, working to overcome a bad home loss to Oregon last weekend.

Head coach Sean Miller said it best on Tuesday: “Right now we’re not striking fear in anybody.”

These next two games are Arizona’s chance to change that.

Utah may be the worst team in the conference. Add in that Arizona gets a major break with the Utes releasing senior leader and 15.6 point-per-game scorer Josh Watkins from the team on Wednesday, and a loss in Salt Lake City would be downright inexcusable.

Then there’s Colorado. The Buffs started their conference schedule red hot, beating Utah, Washington and Washington State at home and grabbing hold of the Pac-12’s top spot.

Utah transfer Carlon Brown was averaging 16.7 points per game in those three games while sophomore big man André Roberson proved his worth as a double-double machine.

But although Colorado is a solid squad and will be as competitive as the Ducks squad that marched into McKale Center and stole a W on Saturday, the Buffs are a team Arizona should beat.

While Colorado has some size down low with 6-foot-7 Roberson and 6-foot-9 Austin Dufault, as well as two senior guards in Brown and Nate Tomlinson, it’s nowhere near as tested as the Wildcats.

Colorado hasn’t faced a ranked opponent all season. Its best non-conference win came at home against Georgia, which is now 9-8 and 0-3 in the SEC. Even its Pac-12 wins are nothing to write home about.

Then consider that the Buffaloes are fresh off of a rough weekend in the Bay Area where they fell to Cal 57-50 and Stanford 84-64 and this Saturday becomes that much more winnable for Arizona.

The Wildcats are stuck at a standstill. Their freshmen haven’t developed as quickly as expected and their veterans haven’t played as consistently as necessary.

And then there’s the turnover problem. As Miller alluded to on Tuesday, the Wildcats couldn’t catch a cold right now with how careless they’ve been with the basketball.

If Arizona wants to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three seasons, all of that needs to change, and it needs to change this weekend.

The Pac-12 will most likely only get two teams in the big dance this season, and that’s if the selection committee is feeling generous. Right now, Arizona isn’t even close to being in the discussion and the Wildcats still have to face Stanford and Cal on the road, Washington twice and UCLA once more.

The Wildcats aren’t even into the roughest part of their schedule and they’re already on the outside looking in.

All of that culminates into a must-sweep weekend for Arizona. If Miller and his young team can’t get that done, the patented “We never left” phrase will soon turn into “NIT, here we come.”

— Mike Schmitz is a marketing senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @WildcatHoops.

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