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February 10, 2013
After a week of upsets against four of the top five teams in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, seventh-ranked Arizona has an opportunity Sunday to do more than just pad its lead in the Pac-12 Conference.
By Monday, there will likely be a new No. 1 team in the country for a sixth consecutive week, and the Wildcats (20-2, 8-2 Pac-12) will be able to state their case with a win over visiting California. The Bears (13-9, 5-5 Pac-12) have dropped 22 of their last 27 games in the head-to-head series.
Tipoff at McKale Center is scheduled for 5 p.m.
Dating back to Feb. 2, Indiana, Florida, Michigan and Kansas - ranked Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 5 in the nation, respectively - all have lost, and the Jayhawks have endured their first three-game losing streak since February 2005. That has left the door open for not only UA, but No. 4 Duke, No. 6 Gonzaga and No. 8 Miami, as well.
But while the Wildcats players have kept one eye on the results around the country throughout the year, head coach Sean Miller said the main focus remains on the Pac-12 - and, more importantly, themselves. After losing at home to UCLA on Jan. 24, the 'Cats have won four in a row including last Wednesday's 73-66 triumph over Stanford.
After the loss to the Bruins, Miller said his team learned that one setback cannot "steal your confidence."
"There's a lot of ways it can be stolen," Miller added. "From people that are disappointed - and, rightfully so - and a lot of people that have nothing to do with what we do as a team every day. So we really try to stay focused on how we practice and that what we do works, and these are the things we didn't do in that game and let's make sure that that doesn't happen."
Miller and the Wildcats do not expect the road to get any easier, and the fourth-year head coach said a 14-4 mark in the conference would be "one heck of a record" by the end of the year.
All is not perfect in the desert, however, and Miller openly tinkered with the idea of changing his starting lineup after the win over the Cardinal.
For the third time in the last five games, a slow start turned into an early double-digit deficit. Against the Bruins, the Wildcats were outscored 19-3 in the first seven minutes. At Washington, the Huskies jumped out to a 16-5 lead in a little more than seven minutes. Then, against Stanford, the 'Cats were down 10-0 after a little more than three minutes.
After the game, Miller said his starters do not have the "confident look that you want," and added that sixth man Kevin Parrom is one player who will be considered for a start.
"I don't know if [Parrom] will," Miller said, "but, to me, he doesn't care whether it's 0-0 or 10-10, 50-50 - he's going to be the same. And as a senior, maybe that's something we can use at the beginning of the game."
Another decision has already been made, however.
Freshman reserve Grant Jerrett missed the last game with what Miller called a "stress reaction of the lowest grade" in his foot. In his place, sophomore Angelo Chol played a career-high 24 minutes and provided a huge lift off the bench.
But Jerrett's foot injury has progressed enough and the forward is expected to play.
Miller said after the win over Stanford that Jerrett would have to prove he can practice at least once and do so pain free before he is cleared.