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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Analysis: What Arizona basketball needs to do to make a run in Pac-12 Tournament

Gordon Bates
Gordon Bates / Arizona Daily Wildcat

The Arizona men’s basketball team came to a fork in its road to the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.

A poor defensive showing against ASU vaporized any realistic hopes of an at-large bid, forcing the Wildcats to win out at the Pac­-12 Conference Tournament in Los Angeles this weekend to get in.

Head coach Sean Miller has said that winning the conference tournament has always been part of the plan, but then again, closing out the season with a win at 20-loss ASU was too.

Since the Wildcats’ fate left them with no other choice, here’s a look at what Arizona will have to do in Los Angeles to go dancing:

Win three games in three days

The Wildcats need to channel their inner UConn, which won five games in as many days in last year’s Big East tournament — riding the momentum off into the sunset. Arizona played just one game over the weekend and took Monday off, so fatigue shouldn’t be an issue come Thursday, even with the UA’s seven-man rotation. The rest of the teams in the Wildcats’ half of the bracket all played two games last weekend and the Washington schools will be making the trip to Los Angeles for the second time in a week.

The key for the Wildcats will be the ability to ride what got them here — defense.

It helps that the Wildcats start off with a bye. Miller said Arizona earned the right to play Thursday as the No. 4 seed in the tournament.

“We have a bye for a reason,” Miller said. “You have to be good.”

Knock off UCLA

A revamped Bruins squad is what most likely awaits Arizona in the quarterfinals matchup of the tournament on Thursday. After a Sports Illustrated article outlining problems within the program, UCLA bounced back with wins over Washington State and Washington at home.

The Wildcats will once again have to deal with the sheer size of the Wear twins and Joshua Smith — a tall task for 6-foot-7 Jesse Perry. And if the Bruins’ size wasn’t enough, UCLA also brings the Pac-12 Player of the Week in Lazeric Jones, who has averaged 19 points in his last two games.

“They really post the ball well,” Miller said. “Every team that plays them, it’s a difficult matchup. And for us as well.”

Keep Wroten, Washington under control

Washington is arguably Arizona’s biggest rival given the two schools’ recent history in the regular season, and especially considering the way last year’s Pac-10 Tournament ended. If the Wildcats want revenge, they’re going to have to keep the Huskies’ deadly trio of guards under control. That task starts with key defense from senior Kyle Fogg and cooling down likely Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Tony Wroten, who leads the Huskies in scoring with more than 16 points per game.

Grind out another Cal upset

The Wildcats’ game against California was the turning point this season, and a win over the Golden Bears, the team Arizona would likely play in the tournament finals, would be the ticket an NCAA berth. After all, it was the sweep of the Bay Area schools that set the Wildcats up for a run to put them back in the bubble talk for the NCAA Tournament in the first place. If the Wildcats move past UCLA and Washington, and that’s a big if at this point after Arizona’s defensive showing against ASU, the Wildcats will stillhave to gut out a win against Jorge Gutierrez and company.

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