It is funny sometimes how history has a way of repeating itself. For Arizona Wildcats basketball however, they may not want that to be the case.
Exactly one year ago at this time, the 2012-13 version of the Wildcats were 16-1 coming off of a convincing win over in-state rival ASU. Today, they have just one less loss at 18-0, coming off a blowout win of the Sun Devils once again.
After that win over ASU a year ago, the Wildcats proceeded to finish the pac-12 season going 9-5 and ultimately 11-7 including the conference tournament and the NCAA tournament. It was not just a trend of losses but also a change in demeanor that was the cause of them stumbling into the postseason.
“I don’t believe our team acts like we are better than we really are,” said Arizona Head Coach Sean Miller. “I think a year ago, we had almost the perfect lesson plan because you forget, I think a year ago at this time I think we only had one loss…We were around the same point a year ago and I don’t want to say we lost it, but we certainly didn’t play the same basketball over the next four to six weeks as we did.”
“Around this time, this was when our team began to disintegrate I guess you can say,” Arizona sophomore guard Gabe York added. “Sort of started to part ways. This year he says he’s not going to let that happen and that we all have a common goal and he is going to keep up his side of the bargain.”
Sean Miller has identified this fact to his team this season and has made changes, especially with his intensity in practice that he hopes will prevent the same slide to occur.
“I believe our approach is different,” Miller explained. “The daily grind isn’t as much of a grind because I think we have a number of players having been there and done this before recognize for example that today’s practice is going to be very important toward Thursday’s game.”
“A year ago, I think we had to force it on them, we had to beg them, kind of direct them through that and when you do that, that pretty much means that they cant do it by themselves,” he added. “This year’s team is more focused without the coach being around.”
“He is always going to be someone who always holds you responsible in whatever it is you do no matter who you are,” York explained. “Last year it was a little shaky at points…Everything has been intensified.”
Part of what makes this team different a year ago seems to be a chemistry and a buy-in that past teams may not have achieved. Highly touted players like Aaron Gordon don’t worry about their touches. Neither does someone like Nick Johnson just because he is the leading scorer and the player on the team with the most experience.
After every game, the Arizona Wildcats twitter handle will tweet out an MVP of each game and it always seems like a new player. New guys step each and every game and it has been a hallmark behind the team being number one in the nation now for the seventh consecutive week.
“There is no player on this team that is going to come in here behind the make and say all I care about is becoming an NBA player and if we go 14-15 and I become an NBA player, I’m great” Miller stated. “With this year’s group at Arizona, we really have a collective group that wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves. I also believe that this is a group that believes with team success, it’s amazing how individual accolades are able to follow.”
“As a team, just being able to play the game that we love and knowing we have a chance to be great this year,” mentioned York. “We’ve already made school history and trying to get another national championship is just fuel to the fire right there.”
Up next this week for Arizona is a team that have had some great battles with over the last couple of seasons. Since Colorado joined the Pac-12, they have not been afraid of Arizona and have been one of the top teams in the conference. Despite their top player Spencer Dinwiddie being out with injury, the Wildcats know this Buffalos team will be especially amped to play them, especially in McKale where a Sabatino Chen game-winning three pointer was waived off.
“I think they’re looking forward to it more than anything,” mentioned York. “I think they feel they got cheated in this building last year. I think it is going to be a great game. Everybody is going to be playing harder than normal.”
Wildcats put their undefeated record and number one ranking on the line against the Buffalos on Thursday at 7:00 from McKale.