Since the Arizona Wildcats were ranked No. 12 in the Associated Press’ preseason Top 25 poll, that could mean the Wildcats have landed within expectations by reaching the Sweet 16.
Everyone else's expectations, that is.
"We still have a lot to do," Solomon Hill said today at a McKale Center news conference. "We’re gonna get after it. It’s back to competing and we’re not satisfied. The games are over.”
Hill said the way the Wildcats finished the season, then playing Colorado and UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament, actually set them up well for the NCAA tournament,
“You want to win the Pac-12 regular season championship, you want to win the (Pac-12) tournament, but when you look at it from the beginning, you’re playing for that but your main focus is the tournament.
“We took some L’s and we learned from that. Not winning the Pac-12 regular season and the tournament really set us up to have a nice run. … (Losing to) UCLA three times, I think that really benefited us. You talk about our seeding, you look back on it and I wouldn’t change it.”
UA coach Sean Miller will again face good friend and former boss Thad Matta, as Miller did in a classic 2007 NCAA tournament game while at Xavier.
Miller and Matta were assistants together on the Miami (Ohio) team that upset Arizona in the first round of the 1995 NCAA tournament, while Miller worked under Matta at Xavier, and then took over the Musketeers when Matta went to Ohio State in 2004.
“Thad Matta is probably my best friend, certainly my best friend in coaching and a guy who means a lot to me,” Miller said today. “I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for him. And we’ve worked together both as assistant coaches and obviously, I was fortunate when he brought me aboard at Xavier when he was the head coach. I learned a lot form him, and we had a great time together.”
Among other things, the coaches share a competitive fire.
“Thad is just a very unique person,” Miller said. “He has that quality where you want to follow him. One of the reasons he’s such a great coach is the players on his team love to play for him. He has a way of making things fun and he’s also one of he most competitive people that I’ve ever met.
“He has a unique combination where he’s very likable and people like to follow him and yet he’s great at what he does and he’s certainly a great competitor.”
Miller also spoke highly of Matta in this ESPN story before the Final Four last season.
Miller raved about Ohio State guard Aaron Craft, one of the country’s best defenders and an undeniable presence on and off the court:
“They’re a great defensive team, and it all starts with Aaron Craft,” Miller said. “If he’s not one of your favorite players, then you don’t like college basketball. He has that, like, Tim Tebow quality. It wasn’t just his performance on the field but who he was as a person, the gift that he provided, the competitive spirit that he embodied. Aaron Craft does the same thing with his defense and competitive fire”
Craft is not known as much for scoring but when he took the game-winner against Iowa State, Miller said, “If you’re a betting man you’re going to bet that that shot goes in because that’s who he is.”
Of course, Miller was also wary of versatile Ohio State forward Deshaun Thomas,
“He reminds me a lot of Shabazz Muhammad,” Miller said. “The difference is that Ohio State plays him at the four and so that puts you in a difficult matchup. They set a lot of ball screens. He’s a prolific three-point shooter, an incredible scorer.
"For us, because he plays the four we’re going to hve to be great with our defense, rotating, you can’t switch on to him because he’s just too big for smaller players to switch on to so it’s a team effort aginst him.”
Because of Ohio State’s postseason experience, having reached last season’s Final Four and winning this season’s Big Ten Tournament, Miller said he didn’t think the Staples Center and UA fans would affect a team like the Buckeyes.
Still, Miller noted “I’d much rather play Ohio State in L.A. than Dayton, Ohio. We have to take advantage of that.”
Arizona hit a combined 56.3 percent from three-point territory last weekend in Salt Lake City, but Miller indicated it’s not an anomaly as much as it is going back to the way the Wildcats were earlier this season.
Arizona made 39.1 percent of its three-pointers through the nonconference season before making 34.5 percent in Pac-12 games.
“We’ve been a very good three-point shooting team,” Miller said. “We hit a slump for about three weeks where it didn’t seem the ball would fall. Prior to our conference beginning, we shot the ball very well. And this weekend we almost returned to form. We took good threes and we had a number of guys contributing.”
Greg Byrne says the Wildcats will wear red jerseys on Thursday. The Wildcats are 4-2 in red so far this season, with four nonconference wins (Texas Tech, Clemson, ETSU and Miami) and losses at Oregon and to UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament.