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Arizona basketball: A good time for a loss?

Arizona coach Sean Miller saw plenty of scary things from his team Thursday night. Photo by Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

You know what happens after a loss: The rationalizing about the loss.

“I think it was good that we lost,” Arizona Wildcats sophomore forward Derrick Williams was quoted as saying by the L.A. Daily News following a 65-57 loss at USC on Thursday night.

“We were getting big-headed and we needed to come back to earth. It was good for us.”

Which is not the same thing as saying it was a good loss.

The eight-game winning streak to the top of the Pac-10 was a nice ride. Arizona got some favorable bounces — and one hellacious blocked shot — along the way. Being ranked in the Top 10 this week was nice and good publicity for the program, but let’s face it:

You’ve probably been following the Wildcats for some time. You know what a Top 10 team looks like. I know what a Top 10 team looks like. This team, on most nights, doesn’t play like a Top 10 team, even in victory.

“We didn’t come out ready to play,” Arizona junior forward Jesse Perry said in the postgame radio interview on 1290-AM.

“With the rankings and everything, all that can sidetrack you a lot. And it really think that was our problem. We didn’t really come out as a team. We came out a little selfish and really weren’t doing the game plan that Coach was preaching.”

In other words:

“We kind of got what we deserved, to be honest with you,” coach Sean Miller said.

Arizona has been thriving on the play of Williams and different role players stepping up each night. With a pool of eight complementary payers — you really can’t count the two backup big men — it seems as if three or four or five guys would be hot at one time.

But when Arizona rolled those dice at USC, hardly anyone came up hot.

Some of that had to do with USC’s defense. Say what you will about Kevin O’Neill, but the guy can coach defense and muddy up a game with the best of them. One more thing: Hope that Arizona doesn’t get matched up with a big team in the NCAA Tournament, because USC’s sizable sentries made life tough for Williams around the basket.

“USC had a great game plan for Derrick, which basically affected everybody,” Perry said.

Now comes UCLA, which is not only hot — winning 11 of the past 13 — but it’s the last home game of the season at Pauley Pavilion. In fact, it’s the last game in a while at Pauley, which won’t be in use next season as it undergoes renovations.

School officials are calling for a “Blue Out,” hoping to create some of the magic that Arizona had last week with its White Out. That’s all going to create waves of energy working against the Cats.

Arizona, at 12-3 in the conference, has a one-game lead in the Pac-10 over UCLA, and a 2-game edge on Washington.

“We weren’t going to win the Pac-10 title tonight, and we weren’t going to lose it,” Miller said in his postgame radio interview. “What we have now is a three-game season to do it. I think we feel like if we win two, we have a chance to, at worst, share (the title).

“We have to take advantage of the situation that we’ve been in and get back to doing some things that make us a good team.”

If the Cats do that, perhaps it will be good that they lost now … and didn’t have to learn an even more painful lesson later, like in the NCAA Tournament.

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