Five days after Arizona sold out its 2011 Red-Blue Game, a showy affair before NBA alums and coveted recruits, the Wildcats hosted Division II Seattle Pacific before nearly 3,000 empty seats and a quieter McKale Center crowd.
Then UA lost its first exhibition game in 27 years 69-68.
While that loss may have foreshadowed the Wildcats' weaknesses last season, when they finished in the first round of the NIT, it also may have said something about hangovers.
So this time, UA coach Sean Miller scheduled a full 10 days between the Red-Blue Game and this season's first exhibition, tonight against Humboldt State.
UA set the game on Halloween because it allowed for ideal spacing among the Red-Blue Game, the Wildcats' second exhibition (next Tuesday against Chico State) and UA's Nov. 11 opener against Charleston Southern.
"We wanted to have more of an opportunity to leave Red-Blue behind us," Miller said. "It was a great experience for our players, the first time they had a chance to play in front of a crowd of that magnitude. …
"But we wanted more time so we can continue to improve and do what more teams do this time of year, which is trying to find itself, make sure we know our weaknesses, who we are before that first game comes."
Before that Seattle Pacific game last year, you might say the Wildcats didn't know who they were. Arizona was coming off an Elite Eight appearance in the 2011 NCAA tournament, and the damage from the losses of Derrick Williams (NBA) and MoMo Jones (Iona) were really yet to be seen.
Arizona was still a rebuilding program, with weaknesses in the post and elsewhere, but the Red-Blue Game - and UA's No. 16 preseason ranking - didn't exactly make it feel that way at the time.
"It was almost as if we were going from the Red-Blue to the NCAA tournament, and then a number of guys would go directly into the NBA draft," Miller said, smiling sarcastically. "And by the way, none of those things were in place."
It was only the morning after the Seattle Pacific loss, when Miller said there "was no way in the world" that UA was the Pac-12's third-best team during the conference media day, that everyone began to know who the Wildcats really were.
The loss "was kind of a dark day of reality, of 'this is where our basketball team is,' "Miller said. "We took a look at that and really tried to improve. We had a very low starting point, and we had a lot of reason behind it."
This season, not only is there more time, but the Wildcats also have more overall talent, more depth, more experience … and maybe more focus.
To make sure of it, Miller said the Wildcats have been treating tonight's exhibition as if it were the regular-season opener.
"We've talked a lot about being ready for every game, including our first, which is Humboldt State," Miller said. "We're going to try to win the game. We're going to try to do things that we feel are going to give us the best opportunity to win.
"We've learned lessons. Sometimes you can really learn valuable lessons from a year ago, and sometimes it really has no meaning. But we are entering this exhibition season more prepared and more focused."
• What: Humboldt St. at Arizona, exhibition
• When: 6:30 p.m.