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Greater responsibility: Sean Miller won’t let No. 1 Arizona get away with anything

Sean Miller approves of this team's togetherness. Photo by Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Sean Miller approves of this team’s togetherness. Photo by Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Discipline and consistency. It’s what every coach strives to provide, what every athlete should welcome.

Sometimes it even works out that way.

Which brings us to the 2013-14 Arizona Wildcats, 18-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country, sitting pretty at that rare intersection of demanding coach, captive audience and subsequent good times.

Will they keep on rollin’?

Remember, Arizona was 16-1 a year ago at this time. The Cats went 11-7 the rest of the way, developing some fissures. Although they still ended up about a play away from going to the West Regional final, coach Sean Miller learned a couple of things along that way.

“Last year, there were some players who were able to get away with some things over the course of the year,” sophomore guard Gabe York said Monday.

“Coach talked about it at the beginning of the year that he wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. Around this time is when our team started to disintegrate, I guess you could say, and started to part ways. … He wouldn’t hold some people responsible.

“This year, he says he’s not going to let that happen, that we all have a common goal and he wants to make sure he’s going to keep his side of the bargain.”

A common goal: Win. Sounds simple. But when you have a dozen or so scholarship players, the majority of whom have NBA dreams — with some hyper-focused on chasing stats and minutes — well, that’s when personal glory bumps the common goal off the pedestal.

But from the time he rolled out the basketballs for the first offseason workout, Miller has been touting this team’s togetherness.

“There is no player that is going to come behind the mic and say, ‘The only thing I care about is becoming an NBA player, and if we go 14-15 and I become an NBA player, I’m great.’ But a lot of them feel that way,” Miller said.

“On this year’s team at Arizona, we really have a collective group that wants to win and become part of something bigger than themselves. I also believe that this is a group that completely understands that with team success, it’s amazing how individual accolades are able to follow.”

From last season’s team, Arizona lost a one-year graduate transfer (point guard Mark Lyons), a freshman unexpectedly to the NBA Draft (power forward Grant Jerrett) and a sophomore post player in search of more playing time at San Diego State (Angelo Chol). Meanwhile, first-round pick Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom completed their eligibility.

Miller said York’s comments about last season had to do with the staff’s inconsistent approach to being the policemen of the defense.

“There were times when I think we kind of played through mistakes defensively and really allowed a few things,” Miller said.

“As you allow players to play with lack of concentration, lack of execution of effort, it starts to sort of become the way. We moved this year, no question about it, to being more aware of when that happens and that we’re going to correct it right then and there.

“If that means less playing time or a change, then that’s what we’ll do. The bigger picture is we have to back up what we talk about.”

Miller credits the newcomers — freshmen Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Elliott Pitts — as well as the now-eligible transfers (T.J. McConnell and Matt Korcheck) — with helping establish the right attitude.

“Usually, some of the things you have to work through are the new players, that they don’t understand, they don’t have a feel for how hard you have to work. But that’s been just the opposite with us,” Miller said.

“What they’ve really added is a humility, a work ethic and an understanding that, ‘I’m here to become the best player that I can become, and I came to Arizona to become a part of something that’s bigger than just my own goals.’

“That hasn’t deviated from the first day to right now.”

York said the practices are more intense than last season. Hollis-Jefferson doesn’t have the frame of reference to be able to compare, although he said he appreciates Miller’s fiery coaching.

“When he gets at it, it motivates us to go even harder,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “It ramps up the practice times 10. I ramp it up times 20.”

The Wildcats will ramp it up to try for victory No. 19 Thursday against Colorado at McKale Center (7 p.m., ESPN2).

Miller loves the team’s mindset as it heads deeper into the conference season, but that’s always a work in progress.

“I know this: We can lose it as simple as tomorrow being Tuesday,” Miller said. “That’s the hard part about being a coach. Just because something is going well, it’s not a given that it’s going to continue to go well.”

And then he added:

“So far, so good.”

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