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November 18, 2013

No. 5 Arizona not looking ahead in NIT Tip-Off

The NIT Season Tip-Off gets underway Monday in four different locations, including Tucson, where the event's No. 1 overall seed Arizona (3-0) will open against Fairleigh Dickinson (1-2).

Tipoff is scheduled for 9 p.m. MT at McKale Center.

But at the other end of the bracket sits No. 2-seeded Duke, which will host UNC Asheville earlier in the evening in Durham, N.C. There may be 16 teams and two other host sites - including third-seeded Alabama and fourth-seeded Rutgers - but all eyes are on the Wildcats and Blue Devils, who are separated by just one slot in the new Associated Press Top 25 poll released Monday.

"We're worried about our game on Monday," said UA junior guard Nick Johnson, who matched his career high with 23 points last Thursday at San Diego State. "Of course, it would be great to meet up with (Duke), but we've got to win our first game, then our second."

The Wildcats, who are limiting opponents to just 32.9 percent shooting through three games, will face either Rhode Island or Division-II Metro State the following night in another 9 p.m. start.

Wildcats fifth-year head coach Sean Miller reiterated the value of a true road contest - win or lose - in a hostile environment, such as SDSU, over a marquee event at a neutral site. Now, the focus is on building upon the boost in momentum.

"Winning breeds confidence, but especially winning on the road," said Miller, who is one win shy of becoming the fifth coach in program history to reach 100. "We're not going to play in front of a more hostile or better crowd than the one we just played in.

"I don't think that's happening very often right now (in college basketball). I think there's a lot being made of big games in November and December that are on neutral courts. Certainly, we're getting ready to hopefully have a chance to play in one ourselves."

The top two seeds cannot meet until next Friday, when the championship game of the event will be played at Madison Square Garden in New York City. While there is no guarantee that fifth-ranked Arizona and sixth-ranked Duke will get there, the buzz surrounding a potential 2011 Sweet 16 rematch was already mounting after the Wildcats' 69-60 win over the Aztecs.

A pair of victories would send UA to the Big Apple for the semifinals, which will be played next Wednesday.

The attention would then turn to star freshmen Jabari Parker of Duke and Aaron Gordon of Arizona. Both are projected to be lottery picks in next June's NBA draft.

While he would welcome the personal challenge, Gordon said nothing is above the team goal.

"The only thing I have to prove is Arizona versus Duke. That's it," Gordon said.

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Tracy McDannaldTracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor

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