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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

UA raises the bar in 2010

Like a time warp back to the Lute Olson days, Arizona dribbled out the last ticks on the clock on Sunday — that’s 3-for-3 on the season.

Sophomore Derrick Williams, who scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds, said that the Wildcats “”have to”” beat weaker teams by “”20 to 30 points”” to be taken seriously as a top-25 team.

“”Have to”” is a phrase of expectation.

Anything less against competition like the Northern Colorado Bears would be less than expected during Arizona’s glory days. And it’s starting to become clear that dribbling out the final seconds versus a big bad, Big Sky Conference team is the run-of-the-mill in 2010 moving forward.

“”Although we weren’t perfect, we had team basketball going,”” head coach Sean Miller said, all while saying it was behind the seemingly effortless game of Williams.

“”That’s really the identity of this year’s team.””

Arizona beat the University of Northern Colorado Bears 93-70 on Sunday in McKale Center, starting the season 3-0 for the first time since 2002-03. Miller said it was simply because of Arizona’s past “”unmerciful”” schedules that the Wildcats hadn’t reached such a feat in so long.

Still, the curve of improvement in year two of the Miller Era could be whittled down to a number of plays, statistics and outcomes.

Take the Bears’ 18-point per game scorer, guard Devon Beitzel, as proof.

“”A year ago, when the best perimeter player came into McKale, we gave him some milk and cookies, we rubbed his belly, we made sure he had wide open shots,”” Miller said. “”And if he missed, heck, we’d even pass it back to him to see if he could break scoring records.

“”That was the identity of last year’s defense.””

Beitzel went 0-for-6 from the field and scored just two points on Sunday.

Take this as another example: With 2:13 remaining in the first half, Miller thought sophomore center Kyryl Natyazhko’s help defense had drawn a charge on driving Northern Colorado forward Mike Proctor. To Miller’s dismay, the official called a blocking foul.

Miller could only smile, clap his hands and let it go.

Had it been last season, Natyazhko might as well have been standing in the ZonaZoo.

Had it been last season, it would have been a lay-up for the other team.

That’s how it should be in Year Two.

Players are buying into Miller’s system, and though beating Big Sky opponents is no analogy to the Wildcats playing sky-high basketball, beating small-school teams by such large margins is undoubtedly a positive sign.

Beating small-school teams by large margins is the expectation.

Arizona didn’t play a perfectly executed game. It committed a number of turnovers, some off of lazy passes and others when undersized, feisty Northern Colorado guards picked their pockets.

But in forcing a number of turnovers themselves and beating the Bears with their physicality, Arizona built a double-digit lead anyway. Its starters played exactly 60 combined minutes to the bench’s 40 minutes in the first half, again showing that Miller is banking on playing hard-nosed defense to win games.

With that, Arizona all of the sudden led by 26 going into halftime.

They didn’t let off the accelerator either, at least not until it was too late for the Arizona walk-ons to be capable of blowing such a large lead.

Point guard Momo Jones stood on the sideline after a Natyazhko 3-pointer went through the nets and chuckled with glee as Natyazhko pulled the Arizona jersey across his chest for the ZonaZoo to see.

“”Everyone was killing it today,”” Natyazhko said.

Such is the expectation.

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

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