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February 20, 2013
Time is running out in the regular season, and No. 12-ranked Arizona is fed up with the inconsistency that has plagued the team in recent weeks.
Three days after making a change in the starting lineup and getting positive results, UA head coach Sean Miller wants to see his team continue to make strides Wednesday against Washington. Tipoff at McKale Center is scheduled for 9 p.m. MST.
Among Miller's biggest concerns is his team's inability to close teams out. At Utah, the Wildcats (21-4, 9-4 Pac-12 Conference) watched their 13-point second-half lead disappear before holding on for a 68-64 win.
Miller's warning: Without a change, the 'Cats - who snapped a two-game skid with the win - will continue to split games and fail to put together long winning streaks. But Miller said it is well within his team's control to make the necessary adjustments.
"All the words that you can come up with: concentration, effort, physical toughness, mental toughness," Miller said. "The things that you know you can do well because you've seen it. Especially when you get a lead and you tend to kind of pull off the gas, so to speak, kind of play the score sometimes. As we've done that, time and time again, you watch that other team start to mount that comeback."
Senior forward Solomon Hill agreed with the fourth-year head coach's assessment. In fact, Miller told the players they have become a "first-half team," Hill said, and the numbers back it up.
In each of the past five games dating back to Feb. 2 at Washington State, opponents have improved their overall shooting and 3-point percentages in the second half. In the first 20 minutes, UA has allowed teams to shoot just 40.1 percent, including 30.2 percent from beyond the arc. But after halftime, teams have improved those numbers to 50.4 percent from the field and 53.6 percent from long range.
What was once a strength last season - the Wildcats led the Pac-12 in defending the 3 - is now a glaring weakness, Miller said. For the season, teams are shooting 36.3 percent beyond the arc this season against the Wildcats, who rank last in the league.
"Our 3-point defense is pathetic," Miller said.
"If you look at our first-half defense versus the second-half defense, I don't know if I've coached a team that has more of a discrepancy."
Added Hill: "I think it's a lack of effort. You have to stay with the same mental aspect as the first half. Guys should be more geared up to finish the game than start the game.
"You want to be able to close out against teams. That's when you want to be at your best."
The Huskies (14-12, 6-7 Pac-12) will come into the contest with a 72-62 win over Oregon State that stopped a three-game slide. Leading scorer C.J. Wilcox is coming off a 24-point performance on 7-of-14 shooting.
In the Jan. 31 meeting between the teams, however, primary defender Nick Johnson and the rest of the Wildcats hounded the junior guard into a 4-of-16 effort and limited Wilcox to just 11 points.
"I think if [Wilcox] gets going, it could be a long night for whoever he plays against," Hill said. "So we want to just jump on him early. I think Nick will be geared up to really go at him again and try to replicate what he did last time."
Not far down the priority list will be UA's focus on the boards. A once dominant rebounding team lost the battle on the glass at Colorado, 31-30, and edged Utah, 34-32.
UW center Aziz N'Diaye is tied for third in the Pac-12 at 9.6 rebounds per game. On the offensive boards, N'Diaye leads the league with 3.6 per contest.
"They're a team that offensive rebounds, they stick to their identity," Hill said.
Above all else, Hill added that the Wildcats are looking to play a complete 40 minutes, which has not happened since Jan. 26 in a 20-point home rout over USC.
With just five games to play in the regular season - and three left in his career at McKale - Hill has his sights set on leaving Tucson without another blemish.
"I don't want to really lose a home game again," Hill said. "It's a weird feeling, especially in front of our crowd.
"It would be a great way to start pushing for the end. Right now it's anybody's race."