2. Arizona Wildcats (11-4, 2-0 Pac-12) LW: 4
We knew coach Sean Miller wouldn’t have the talent normally associated with Arizona basketball. Perhaps we underestimated how he can build conference contenders.
Winners of four of the last five Pac-12 titles, the Wildcats defended their crown in the first week, rising to the top of the league standings with victories over Colorado and Utah.
As a Miller-led team will do, UA won two entirely different games. The first one, a 64-56 victory over the Buffaloes, came down to defensive grit. Top scorers Brandon Randolph, Chase Jeter and Brandon Williams finished a combined 13-of-31 from the field, forcing the second half to become a possession-based game.
The difference lied within Arizona’s effort. Despite being outrebounded and out-shot at the free throw line, 17 forced turnovers and limiting Colorado to 36 percent shooting helped build an 17-point advantage that wasn’t overcome.
The win against the Buffaloes initially appeared the tougher game, but an upset-minded Utah provided a great challenge. After a 24-point outing in a win at Arizona State, senior Sedrick Barefield continued his scoring prowess, leading the Utes with 26 points on 59 percent shooting at McKale Center.
But even as the Utes shot 57 percent (52 percent from 3-point range), the home advantage proved vital. Randolph, Jeter and Williams rebounded for a combined 63 points, upending a six-point deficit in the final five minutes.
No matter what talent is on the floor, Arizona will be a tough out at home. That makes them a legit contender for the conference title, even if Deandre Ayton and Allonzo Trier aren’t roaming the paint and perimeter.
The Wildcats travel to the Bay Area tonight to face Stanford at 9 p.m. They’ll receive a two-day rest before facing Cal Saturday night.