TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona has gotten better with each game this season, the margins of victory growing, its talented freshman becoming more confident and comfortable.
But after rolling over Long Beach State in their last game, the 10th-ranked Wildcats have an eight-day break before their next game.
A potential momentum killer?
Arizona coach Sean Miller doesn’t see it that way.
He sees the extended time off as a chance re-iterate what the team has done right, work on the few things it has done wrong.
“I think every team in November is on a quest to get better and continually improve,” Miller said after Arizona beat Long Beach State 94-72 on Monday night at home. “We have a great opportunity now to learn through our game experience and now build.”
Arizona entered the season with plenty of expectations, thanks to a roster loaded with proven veterans and another stellar recruiting class by Miller.
The Wildcats have lived up to those so far, pulling away from Charleston Southern for an opening 82-73 victory, then rolling over Texas-El Paso 72-51.
Arizona played its best game of the regular or exhibition season Monday night, racing out to a 22-point lead in the first half and shooting 53 percent in the never-in-doubt win over the 49ers.
Through those first three games, the Wildcats’ returning players have played well.
Forward Solomon Hill finds a way to fill up the stat sheet whether he shoots well or not, guard Nick Johnson has shown poise in his second season and Kevin Parrom appears to be back to being the player he was before being shots before the 2011-12 season.
Those talented youngsters haven’t been bad, either.
Forward Grant Jerrett looked comfortable with the college game right off the bat, opening the season as a starter. Center Kaleb Tarczewski struggled in the opener against Charleston Southern’s smaller players, but has played better in stretches the past two games as his teammates have gotten the ball to him down low.
Forward Brandon Ashley earned the start against Long Beach State with his hard work in practice and had a superb debut, hitting all six of his shots while scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
The Wildcats are deep, talented and on a roll to start the season, looking forward to the chance at getting better.
“You don’t really get holidays around here, especially when you’re playing,” Hill said. “It’s nice to enjoy (Thanksgiving) as a team – we’re going to get together as a team – but the goal is to win, so you can only take so many days off.”
It hasn’t been perfect.
Arizona has had trouble getting the ball into the low post consistently, particularly to the 7-foot Tarczewski, who is far more effective when has the ball around the rim.
Point guards Mark Lyons and Jordin Mayes have combined for 16 assists and 14 turnovers as they try to mesh with a roster that has several new players at key spots.
There also have been times when the Wildcats have fouled too much, particularly late in the shot clock, bailing out shooters at the last second after playing good defense to that point.
The biggest concern is defending the 3-point shot.
Charleston Southern spent most of the opener casting up 3-pointers, shooting 28 – compared to 22 from inside the arc – and making 10. Long Beach State also took more than half its shots from 3-point range, making 14 of 32.
Arizona had some trouble defending the 3 in exhibition games, too, and teams are hitting 39 percent of their shots from the arc so far.
“At this break, that’s a real big focus for us to be able to take away the three-point shot,” Miller said. “That’s one of the main things we’re going to try to get better at during this break.”
The Wildcats will have plenty of time to work on it before their next game, against Northern Arizona on Nov. 28, which is fine by their coach.