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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Step off the ledge

This is why he didn’t announce that his team had arrived.

This is why, despite a four-game winning streak coming into the Washington road series, Arizona head coach Sean Miller’s basketball team had never talked about a postseason appearance.

They are who we thought they were — thanks Denny Green ­— and neither the Cougars nor the Huskies let the Arizona Wildcats off the hook, sending the UA home with a reminder to its fans:

Step off the ledge.

Probably every article, television report or Internet blog will tell of the Wildcats’ youth, but with each improvement and each building block set in place — with each win — it’s only natural to dispel Arizona’s age excuse in hopes of bringing back an NCAA Tournament appearance. But it was a long shot that the Wildcats would pull off a streak good enough to win the Pacific 10 Conference regular season title.

Miller knew that.

It was always the more hopeful thing to believe Arizona might run the table at the Pac-10 Tournament in Los Angeles.

And even after losses to Washington and Washington State, that train of thought hasn’t changed.

With a one-game-at-a-time mentality still needed for Arizona, the two-game series also gave anyone in Tucson’s hoops-loving atmosphere a reminder.

The Pac-10 title — even in a down year — isn’t the Wildcats’ to run away with just yet.

Not to say the youthful Wildcats thought they would.

Not to say they are naïve.

They knew nothing was guaranteed, or at least they said they knew.

UA players had bought into a Miller-implemented system that rewarded hard-nosed defense and rebounding with fast break buckets galore. They wouldn’t think past the game at hand.

But in Washington, twice did the Wildcats stray from what had made them successful.

In its 81-75 loss to the Huskies on Thursday, Arizona’s hard-nosed defense was too rough — five players had at least four fouls and two fouled out. The Wildcats sent the Huskies to the foul line 42 times.

Against the Cougars on Saturday, Arizona was beaten on the glass after Washington State awoke in its 78-60 win, soundly handling the Wildcats after finding themselves down 12-4 early in the game. WSU shot 51 percent from the field in the contest, including a 67 percent clip during the second half.

So much for no easy buckets.

But Arizona’s road trip was a hubris-ridder, a reality check.

Before Thursday, it was only human nature for the Wildcats to get ahead of themselves. It was also only a matter of time before the team came out flat, as they did in Pullman, Wash., Saturday night — the extended northern journey from the desert couldn’t have helped Arizona’s cause, either.

None of this is to say the Wildcats hadn’t turned the corner.

It was a matter of turning the corner onto a one-way street.

There were positives: See Brendon Lavender’s shooting touch gain confidence during games — Miller has said he is the team’s best 3-point shooter in practice — or Momo Jones’ decision-making improve.

It was intriguing to see the foul-happy Wildcats remain in contact with the Huskies in front of their rowdy crowd and through their high-octane style of play.

In the end, though, that push to stay in that game probably spelled mental doom for Arizona come the second half against the Cougars.

It was consistency that killed the Wildcats over the weekend, but it’s no reason for Arizona — or its fans, for that manner — to panic.

Tournament wishers need only worry about the continuation of The Streak come March 10, when Arizona will likely play its first Pac-10 tournament game.

— Kevin Zimmerman is a journalism junior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu

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