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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

In a game of improvements, first game is a solid start

Teams don’t just go from playing sloppy, undisciplined basketball to executing at a high level and running lesser teams out of a building.

It’s not easy for a team to just flip the switch once it makes the move from exhibition season to games that matter.

Arizona’s performance was evidence of that in Monday’s win over Valparaiso.

For the third straight game, the Wildcats got off to a sloppy start. It took Arizona well over two minutes to get on the scoreboard and its first field goal didn’t come until nearly four minutes had passed on the game clock.

The Wildcats turned the ball over three times in the first two minutes, including two from expected leader Solomon Hill. Murmurs that Arizona was going to again be exposed by a team with nowhere near its talent level were starting to come from an unspectacular McKale Center crowd of 12,871.

But Monday was different. The intensity was ratcheted up a few notches. It was clear that the Wildcats understood the time for using everything as a learning experience and making mistakes was over.

And after head coach Sean Miller called out his senior’s leadership following Arizona’s second exhibition, two of the three — Kyle Fogg and Jesse Perry — answered the scratch.

“I definitely took it personal,” Fogg said.

He and the rest of a team — albeit a very young team — that had yet to prove itself worthy of its No. 16 ranking seemed to recognize the difference in attention and effort required between exhibitions and games being broadcast nationally.

And they showed it.

There weren’t any colossal defensive breakdowns. Fogg showed why he was Arizona’s most-talked about player during the preseason. Jordin Mayes showed the shooting prowess he put on display last March.

“It comes with practice,” Fogg said. “It’s not so much of a switch, but kind of a thing you’ve got to work for.”

It took 22 minutes of game action, but then the light finally came on for Arizona. After weeks of Miller pounding into their heads the importance of treating every play and every game the same, the Wildcats played good basketball for an extended period of time.

They put together a 12-0 run over five minutes and didn’t allow a field goal in the second half until there was 11:31 left on the clock.

For the first time in the 2011-12 season that’s still in the infancy stages, Arizona showed glimpses of a team capable of competing in a Pac-12 Conference that’s growing ever stronger.

As Miller constantly says, it’s not about where you start, it’s about where you finish. The Wildcats have grown eons from the team that opened its exhibition slate with a loss to a Division II school.

If it’s come that far in a little over a week and a half, imagine where Arizona will be in January and February if it keeps up its current progress.

“We’re not the 16th-ranked team in the country,” Miller said. “(But) it’s so much about making progress.”

Well, Arizona showed its first signs of that on Monday.

— Alex Williams is the assistant sports editor. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu

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