Just as Memphis coach Josh Pastner says his team is playing its best basketball of the season, Arizona coach Sean Miller claims the same thing about the Wildcats.
Miller said he liked the way his players responded in an ever-increasing big-game environment last week at the Pac-10 tournament in Los Angeles.
Arizona defeated NCAA tournament team USC in the semifinals — the Wildcats’ best victory away from home all season — and then battled another NCAA tournament team, Washington, into overtime. The Huskies won on Isaiah Thomas’ last-second shot.
“I can make the argument, that even though we weren’t smart at the end of the Washington game, in the three times that we’ve played them, that was our own team’s best overall performance,” Miller said.
In Seattle, Arizona faded down the stretch. In Tucson, Arizona had the emotional help of a rowdy crowd at the White-Out.
In Los Angeles, “I felt good about our team’s effort level and they way we’ve played,” Miller said.
“That performance, learning, playing with that pressure, I think really prepares you for the next step, because we don’t have a lot of guys who have been to the tournament.”
Senior forward Jamelle Horne and little-used redshirt junior big man Alex Jacobson have been to two NCAA Tournaments. Junior guards Kyle Fogg and Brandon Lavender have been to one.
Horne and Fogg were starters when Arizona made its surprising run to the Sweet 16 in 2009.
“I haven’t really talked a lot about our team being young, just because it’s the way of college basketball,” Miller said.
“Right now, with as much experience as our sophomore class has, I look at those guys as veterans in college basketball. That experience last year and this year, there are very few groups of players in the last 60 games that have played as much as those five guys we call our sophomores.”
Miller’s advice to those sophomores and freshmen in their first NCAA Tournament: Enjoy the atmosphere. The open practices, the spotlight, being on the podium for interviews, the police escort to the arena …
“It’s just what college basketball is all about,” Miller said. “This two-, three-, four-week period of time, part of it is to enjoy it, and part of it also is to know how quickly it disappears. We are balancing those two things.”