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Sean Miller keeps things in perspective after beating UCLA

The Zona Zoo was in fine form, breaking out cutouts of Arizona players' faces, including Solomon Hill.
Photo by Monique Fimbres, 520-Sports.com

Arizona and UCLA have played some basketball classics. Thursday night’s game wasn’t one of them.

The teams combined for 36 turnovers, and the Bruins had trouble getting straight shooting from anyone other than sophomore forward Reeves Nelson.

Let’s face it, these days UCLA — which has more raw talent than Arizona if you went by all the recruiting rankings — is a rather small fish. This UCLA team, like last season’s UCLA team, does not play Ben Howland’s brand of defense.

Not that the Wildcats are throwing back an 85-74 victory at McKale Center.

A win over UCLA always feels good. The victory allowed Arizona to take over sole possession of second place in the Pac-10. Sean Miller’s Wildcats reached 17 victories — one more than last season — so that was something of a milestone.

And, rather emphatically, Derrick Williams had four dunks in which it looked like he attempted to do what Miller’s Pitt teammate Jerome Lane did 23 years ago. That will make this game somewhat memorable.

When Miller sat down for his postgame interview, he spit out a few sentences of how great the victory was, how vocal the crowd was … and then he, as he often does, doused any rising flames of expectations.

“Our team really has a lot of growing up to do, maturity-wise,” Miller said.

“We didn’t handle the last four minutes well at all. At all. I mean, you’re up 16 points, you’re not trying to score. You’re going to milk the clock. You’re going to run 30 seconds. You’re going to put UCLA in a position to foul. You’re not going to quick-shoot and then foul. …

“We’re had probably three trips at one point when we had a big lead when we didn’t really know who we had matching up. All those things are going to set us up for a big, fat loss moving down the stretch.

“As excited as I am about the win — and we did do a lot of great things — the growth and maturity of our team has to continue to move in that direction so that if that score is four or five points we can leave with a hard-fought win and not allow that team to beat us because of things we can control.

“It’s always great to learn lessons with a home win, but our team really needs to learn a lesson of who we played in the last four or five minutes. We have to be more responsible together. The details of the game have to be shored up.”

And with that, his critique was over.

Until he started talking about his team’s 17 turnovers.

Miller wasn’t steamed. He wasn’t raising his voice. He was, as he almost always does in these kind of settings, just keeping things in perspective.

For the defense

UCLA shot 2 of 15 from 3-point range, continuing a positive trend for Miller’s man-to-man defense.

The Wildcats are allowing opponents to shoot just 26.4 percent from behind the arc. Better yet for Arizona, conference opponents are shooting a paltry 21.1 percent on 3-point attempts (28 of 133).

Sometimes you get lucky and the other guys miss open shots, but a season-long trend like that shows that the Cats are pressuring the guy with the ball like their coach demands that they do.

“Our 3-point field goal percentage defense continues to be excellent,” Miller said. “It’s one of the things that has allowed us to have the success we’ve had through 21 games.”

On the flip side, Arizona is shooting 44.6 percent (54 of 121) from beyond the arc in conference games.

Put it this way: Arizona has outscored Pac-10 foes 162-84 from 3-point range — about 10 points per game.

By the numbers

2 — Points for backup center Kyryl Natyazhko in the past seven games, spanning 56 minutes of playing time.

Quoting UCLA

“We aren’t going to compete against anyone with that much speed and momentum again.” — UCLA sophomore forward Tyler Honeycutt, talking about Arizona and perhaps forgetting about Washington

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