SALT LAKE CITY - There's a decent chance that Arizona Wildcats coach Sean Miller will be shipped back to Utah in five weeks for the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.
If so, Miller is hoping a somewhat different team comes with him.
While Arizona ended a two-game losing streak in a 68-64 win at Utah on Sunday, the No. 9 Wildcats displayed many of the same tendencies on both sides of the ball that cost them games against California and Colorado over the previous week.
They blew a 13-point lead with 17:43 left, allowed Utah to make 5 of 8 three-pointers after halftime, turned the ball over eight times in the first half and made just 1 of 10 three-pointers in the second half, struggling to find a rhythm against Utah's constantly changing defense.
They also have depth issues. UA had just two points and one rebound from their eighth and ninth players, with Miller yanking guard Jordin Mayes out for good after he airballed a three-pointer in the first half.
So even though UA is 21-4 overall and 9-4 in the Pac-12, tied for second place with UCLA, the Cats haven't quite demonstrated they're ready for an extended postseason.
"For us, there's a reason to be excited that here we are with five games left in the year at 21-4," Miller said. "But if we want to make a team that will make a run in March, or finish these next five out the best we can, then we can't be the same team that we've been. We have to improve."
While the Wildcats started off better than they have in three previous games, taking five-point leads midway through the first half and a 33-25 lead at halftime, their effectiveness degenerated as the game wore on. They hung on in part with several bold drives to the basket from point guard Mark Lyons, who led the Wildcats with 18 points despite shooting 1 of 9 from three-point territory.
In the second half, Utah made 5 of 8 three-pointers, while big man Jason Washburn had nine points on 3-of-4 shooting after halftime.
"Our intensity just wasn't the same," Lyons said. "They were down, so they came out a lot more enthusiastic."
On the other end of the court, UA made just 1 of 10 three-pointers in the second half while Kaleb Tarczewski began to struggle inside - and lightly used Utah freshman Jeremy Olsen continued to have success inside. Olson finished with 12 points and six rebounds.
"You have to be able to watch us and say, 'They did a great job defending the three-point shot for the entire game, not just a half,' " Miller said. "Inside (Utah's) young big guys played the best we've seen them play. There were times in the second half we just tried whichever big guy could do the best against them and it ended up being Brandon Ashley."
That was somewhat ironic, partly because Ashley isn't really a center but played there in the second half - and because Ashley was removed from the starting lineup after struggling in two of the previous three games.
Ashley had started 21 of Arizona's 24 previous games this season, and all Pac-12 games except UA's Jan. 10 loss at Oregon, but Miller opted to go with a smaller lineup that inserted Kevin Parrom at small forward and shifted Solomon Hill back to power forward.
Miller had said beforehand that he would change the lineup because he was fed up with the team's slow starts at the beginning of both halves over the previous three games.
But while he acknowledged that Ashley had been struggling, Miller said the shift was about starting Parrom as his senior year nears an end. Miller also said the move would probably be permanent.
"It wasn't as if he didn't play well or I'm disappointed in Brandon," Miller said. "He was just the guy you have to select to start Parrom, and the reason we started Parrom was we're at the end of the road here. He's a senior, and we're going to ride the guys who have the most to gain and the most to lose.
"(Mark) Lyons, Hill and Parrom, to me, are the three guys who can start the game the best way and start the second half the best way."
Arizona led 5-4 at the first media timeout of the first half and outscored Utah 10-5 over the first four minutes of the second half - times of big concern for Miller - but the seniors also made a difference down the stretch.
Utah tied the game at 51 with 7:28 left but Hill drove in for a layup to make it 53-51 and the Utes never did get any closer. Parrom and Lyons both scored six points in the final four minutes to close the door.
For Lyons, driving to the basket with success helped offset his three-point shooting and five turnovers.
"I just had to start attacking the basket," Lyons said. "In our last game (at Colorado), I didn't think I was aggressive and you saw the outcome of that. So I thought I'd stay aggressive the whole game.
"I may miss jumpers, but I'm not one dimensional."
The lineup change may have also done something for Ashley, who played one of his most efficient games of the season: In 22 minutes, Ashley had 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting, while collecting four rebounds and three steals while playing solid defense.
He also expressed no complaints about his new role.
"It worked out for us," Ashley said. "In the last few games, we haven't necessarily gotten off to the best start. We got off to a quick start in the game today, and in the long run that will help us out in games."
• Who: Washington at No. 9 Arizona
• When: 9 p.m. Wednesday
• TV: ESPN2
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)