Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Arizona vs. Duke: Effort, nastiness, all in, don’t get punked

Here come Derrick Williams and the Wildcats. Photo by Jeff Gross, Getty Images Sport

Arizona Wildcats coach Sean Miller left behind his practice sheet after finishing with interviews Tuesday in McKale Center.

Nothing super secretive. It’s not like it would be valuable in enemy Duke’s hands.

And I don’t think it’s breaking protocol to disclose his daily motto at the top:

All in. Do what we do. No excuses. No explanations.

That about sums it up.

Miller probably has a million ways to motivate, and most of this group of Wildcats has been absorbing his relentless prodding for almost two years. The result is a team in his own image — tough, scrappy. It’s a pack of bulldogs.

Arizona teams of the recent past might have been dismissed as “all athlete, no heart” but these Cats are mostly the opposite.

The words from Miller’s postgame talk after beating Texas still echo: “Nastiness is required.”

I asked MoMo Jones earlier this week what that phrase really meant to him.

“It means to be physical, it means to rebound the ball, it means not to get punked most of all,” he said.

“It means to leave everything on the court and play with as much heart as you can play with, and with as much emotion as you can play with.”

So, add that to the list: All in. No explanations. Nastiness is required. Don’t get punked.”

It all leads to this. The Sweet 16 matchup against Duke tonight in Anaheim. The Wildcats are playing their best ball of the season but will have to muster their best effort of the season.

Miller has been throwing rose petals at Duke’s feet all week for how hard the Blue Devils’ play. All that other stuff — 3-point shooting, Derrick Williams passing out of the double team, surviving Duke’s defensive on-ball pressure, the return of Duke freshman star guard Kyrie Irving, Kevin Parrom’s ankle — won’t mean a thing if the Wildcats can’t match that intensity from the opening tip.

“You don’t want to be that team that’s just giddy about being there,” Miller said.

That might have worked for Arizona’s 2009 team that eked into the NCAA Tournament under interim coach Russ Pennell. With favorable matchups, the Wildcats went to the Sweet 16 … and were promptly handed their lunch and run out of Indianapolis by Louisville.

“I feel like this team is more focused and determined to win,” said junior guard Brendon Lavender. “Our freshman year, we didn’t have that same motivation. This year, we’re really on top of everything.”

Giving all-out effort, being on top of everything, won’t guarantee anything against top-seeded Duke. But the Wildcats will have no chance without it.

And they seem to be re ready to give just that, to be all in.

“It’s going to be probably one of the nastiest of the games you’ve seen in your life,” Jones was quoted as saying by FoxSportsArizona.com’s Jack Magruder.

“I’m pretty sure there are going to be heated moments. People are going to be in each other’s face. People are going to be pushing each other for rebounds. People fighting. Elbows thrown. I mean, it’s the Sweet 16. You’re fighting to win a national championship. You’re fighting to get to the Elite Eight. You’re fighting to live another day.”

More Arizona-Duke coverage from TucsonCitizen.com:

Javier Morales: Arizona vs. Duke: Starting frontcourt matchup

Javier Morales: Starting perimeter matchup

Javier Morales: Bench matchup

Javier Morales: Ex-Wildcats leery of Coach K’s impact on the referees in Sweet 16 game

Javier Morales: Arizona finally gets rematch with Duke 10 years later

Steve Rivera: Great games remembered — Arizona vs. Duke

Steve Rivera: Lute Olson on Arizona-Duke: ‘Should be another great game’

Miller has ultimate respect for Coach K … and little success against him

Ice-cold Blue Devils? Arizona can only hope

Confessions of a Duke fan

Mike Krzyzewski: Derrick Williams ‘doesn’t get the publicity’

Arizona in the NCAA’s: It’s a charmed life

Sweet 16 rewind: Arizona’s greatest upset over No. 1 Kansas in 1997

Brad Allis: Sweet 16 notes

Arizona Republic columnist Paola Boivin: Arizona must be confident against Duke

Search site | Terms of service