The national praise and school records keep flowing in, threatening to bloat his players’ egos, but coach Sean Miller insists the Arizona Wildcats are in the moment.
He doesn’t need to keep them focused with one-game-at-a-time clichés, either.
Recent history will do just fine.
A year ago, as Miller noted after UA beat Colorado 69-57 on Thursday, the Wildcats went from unbeaten in nonconference into a six-loss conference season that left them in a three-way tie for second in the Pac-12, a game behind UCLA.
That’s what he said he talked to his team about after Thursday’s game, more than the fact that UA tied a school record for most consecutive wins against college teams.
“We touched a little bit on (the record) at the end,” Miller said. “The mindset right now is we’ve got a chance to get a home sweep and we’re in a battle to compete for a conference championship, as we were last year, and we all know we missed it by a game and that has all motivated our team to not finish second.
“We’ll try to be first, and if we don’t make it, we’re not going to have any regrets in how we’re approaching it, as opposed to dealing with the volume of wins. We need to focus on trying to beat Utah and then feeling good about beating Colorado and Utah.”
That isn’t to say Miller and the Wildcats, on some level, aren’t taking time to enjoy what is going on.
They are aware of the history that’s being set: Fastest school start, most consecutive weeks ranked No. 1, and now most consecutive wins over college teams.
“Never one day have any of us walked into McKale Center and said it’s not good to be No. 1 or taken it for granted,” Miller said. “It’s a fantastic feeling. If you are No. 1, embrace it. ...
“We’re not at the finish line. We know that. Where we are in late January may be a far different place than late February if we don’t continue to win and continue to get better.
“While, we’re No. 1, it’s our responsibility to make sure that we’re doing everything on our part to stay No. 1 and continue to get better.”
Colorado is still working to replace the all-around skills of injured guard Spencer Dinwiddie, but the Buffaloes may already have his swagger taken care of.
While Dinwiddie said in the preseason that Arizona wasn’t necessarily “the cream” of the Pac-12, Colorado forward Xavier Johnson said after Thursday’s game that Arizona “is not that good” despite being ranked No. 1.
“They are the No. 1 team and they just beat us, so I can’t really talk, but everybody has their lapses, you know?” Johnson said, according to the Boulder Daily Camera. “We have better players than them, I think, even down a player — two great players (Dinwiddie and Tre’Shaun Fletcher). We just have to battle and get better.”
Much like the Buffaloes looked forward to a rematch with Arizona at their place last season, beating the Wildcats 71-58 after losing a controversial one in overtime at McKale, Johnson predicted tough times for the Wildcats on Feb. 22 at Coors Events Center.
“That’ll be a 20-point blowout,” Johnson said. “We just have to keep playing hard and work.
“We actually beat them in the second half (33-30, Thursday), so we were able to show that we can win and we can beat the No. 1 team.
“We just have to put two halves together.”
On Friday, Johnson recast his remarks on Twitter.
“Wow its crazy how media twist words around,” his Twitter page read. “I have a lot of respect for Arizona’s players and the head coach. Cant wait to play yalls again.”
More midseason honors
UA guard Nick Johnson and freshman forward Aaron Gordon have been named to the midseason list of the Oscar Robertson Award, a player of the year honor from the United States Basketball Writers Association.
Gordon was also named Friday to the midseason list for the Wayman Tisdale Award for the best freshman.
Both players earlier this week also made the 25-man watch list for the Wooden Award, which Miller said spoke to Johnson’s effectiveness and work ethic.
Miller said he told former UA standout Solomon Hill, who attended Thursday’s game, that Johnson reminds him of the steady uphill career path Hill took.
“He’s very similar to Solomon in that everybody wasn’t bestowing these accolades on him,” Miller said. “He earned it with his performance by being a great leader and all of his hard work. Nick making the 25-man cut (for the Wooden Award list) was earned through a lot of incredible performances.”