Just in case the No. 1 Arizona Wildcats start thinking ahead too much to their three-day Christmas break, coach Sean Miller has another motivational nugget for them.
It was over two years ago, on Dec. 17, 2011, that the Wildcats last lost a nonconference game, when Gonzaga beat them 71-60 in Seattle.
That’s 26 straight games. And, if Arizona can beat NAU on Monday, that will be the second straight season that the Wildcats have run the table in nonconference play.
“We have a couple of players in our program who have never lost a nonconference game,” Miller said. Twenty six “in a row, that’s a heck of thing, and it’s not as if we just played teams we’re supposed to beat. That’s something we’re going to talk about.
“And then I hope we have a great Christmas and come back energized and ready to compete in this conference. I think it’s going to be a great conference season right around the corner.”
Miller has more of a chance to get his players’ attention this weekend, too: Now that the fall semester over, the Wildcats have only basketball to focus on for the next three-plus weeks, except for a brief break for Christmas from Tuesday through next Friday morning.
“I’m anxious to deal with our team without school, knowing our game against NAU on Monday is our last nonconference game,” Miller said.
Back on track
In Thursday’s game against Southern, sophomore guard Gabe York had his most productive game since being benched for most of the Dec. 7 game with UNLV because of early defensive mistakes.
York had six points on 2-for-3 three-point shooting, three rebounds and two assists against the Jaguars. He had been 1 for 9 from the field in two previous games after going scoreless in just six minutes against UNLV.
The UNLV benching “was just a reality check,” York said. “Sitting out the whole second half made me work harder in practice and the games we had after that.”
York hit his first three 14 minutes into Thursday’s game and said his confidence grew, but Miller said his passing was also important.
“He looked like a player who was comfortable out there,” Miller said. “I thought he gave us some good minutes.”
However, UA received only two total points and three rebounds from the final three scholarship players used more regularly than usual Thursday: Jordin Mayes, Elliott Pitts and Matt Korcheck.
“It’s unfair to judge Matt and Elliott,” Miller said. Thursday’s game “was kind of like their first test. Hopefully, we’re going to have a chance to get them some more minutes on Monday leading into conference play.”
One reason center Kaleb Tarczewski’s right ankle sprain is requiring a long rehab: He hurt it before in high school, and earlier this summer, before he stepped on a Michigan player’s foot last week.
“Sometimes when you hurt your ankle, it has a tendency to happen again,” Miller said. “Some of the swelling he has isn’t (just from) his current injury — it’s just the lifetime of his injury. But we’re going to take it slow. We want to make sure he’s at his best for the Pac-12. I have my fingers crossed that 7-10 days from now he’s in a much better place, but we’re really working hard to get him back.”
When asked if Tarczewski might play Monday against NAU, Miller said UA is taking it a day at a time.
“Especially without school, he’s able to really work through the day,” Miller said. “I think every couple of days he’ll get better.”