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Pac-12 tournament: Arizona Wildcats have plenty of motivation

Sean Miller

Sean Miller has come close in the past two conference championship games. Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats didn’t cut down any nets, didn’t earn any banners, didn’t need to order any rings after the Pac-12 regular season.

Now it’s time to turn all that into a positive.

Arizona begins play at the conference tournament in Las Vegas on Thursday, and coach Sean Miller suggests his Cats could be motivated by two factors: Losing, painfully, in the past two conference tournament title games … and falling short of expectations in the league’s regular season.

“When you don’t win the final championship, it’s like a Super Bowl,” Miller said.

“Nobody remembers who was in the Super Bowl except for the winner. Conference tournaments are sometimes like that. … We have experienced that disappointment on the last day; I think that’s a motivating factor.

“Also to our advantage, it’s not as if we cut down the nets last weekend and everybody is congratulating us on winning the regular season. We finished in second place. Sometimes, the team that has more to prove, a chip on their shoulder, has an advantage. Hopefully, we have that going for us as well.”

Another hopeful sign: The Wildcats went 10-4 away from McKale Center and played some of its best basketball on a neutral court in Honolulu, when it beat Miami and San Diego State to win the Diamond Head Classic on Christmas break.

“I feel like all we’ve got is us,” senior point guard Mark Lyons said of playing away from home.

“We got into the game, knowing all we have is each other and we have to play for each other, and if one guys is not on his job, it’s going to hurt the whole team.”

Arizona, seeded fourth in the tournament, wasn’t able to prepare for one team, as it had to await the winner of the first-round game between No. 5 Colorado and No. 12 Oregon State (the Buffs won). Miller wasn’t worried so much about the opponent one way or another.

“It’s so much about us,” he said.

“The scouting element is somewhat overrated at this time of year, because both teams know each other so well.”

Even though Arizona is seeded fourth, basketball analyst Ken Pomeroy gives Arizona a 30.1 percent of winning the conference tournament.

Don’t tell that to the Wildcats. Having an underdog mentality might be the way to go.

“I think we definitely have a chip on our shoulder,” said senior Solomon Hill. “We put ourselves in position to be a top seed a couple of times and we lost focus.”

Another chance starts Thursday.

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