Sean Miller and Mark Few enjoyed an animated text message exchange a few weeks ago. Miller was up late, watching a replay of the double-overtime Arizona-Gonzaga meeting in the 2003 NCAA Tournament, and contacted his friend. "We were laughing about that," Few said. If the two exchange messages after Sunday night's game at the Viejas Arena, it might go something like this: Miller: Sorry, dude. Few: Meh. In an 84-61 victory over the Bulldogs, the Wildcats recovered their swagger and then some and look well-prepared for a deep postseason run. What Miller managed to do with his team between Friday's so-so victory over Weber State and Sunday's blowout sent a strong statement about the coach he has become and how tuned in he is with his players. We should all be impressed as Arizona heads to a Sweet 16 meeting with San Diego State Thursday in Anaheim. Few was. He told Miller afterward this was the best team he can remember facing. Quite soon, Miller may no longer be mentioned as one of the best coaches who hasn't reached the Final Four. "Of course, I would like to get off that list," he said, smiling. One of the prevailing story lines entering this game was how much the Wildcats' subpar free-throw shooting would come back to bite them. Arizona was the worst team in the Pac-12 from the line and it got so bad Friday that Miller kept freshman phenom Aaron Gordon off the court during offensive possessions in the final minutes. Yet, Miller never voiced an ounce of concern about the issue, even during interviews, and his team followed his lead. Against the Bulldogs, the Wildcats were 9 for 9 from the line in the first half and 13 for 18 overall. More important, Miller continues to put Gordon in a position to succeed. "The best thing about Aaron is he plays so hard," Few said. "That's a talent in itself." And then there was point guard T.J. McConnell, who probably had his worst game of the season against Weber State. The senior was a different player Sunday, successfully directing the offense and recording 12 points and six assists. "Coach Miller and I had a talk," McConnell said. "And my teammates said, "Go out there and do what you usually do.' " Most impressive was how poised Arizona was against a team many picked for the upset. Gonzaga is a gifted team with two 7-footers, a talented backcourt, a stubborn defense and terrific coach in Few. Yet the Bulldogs were the ones who looked flustered early, committing 11 turnovers in the first half before the Wildcats were even guilty of one. Arizona scored 19 of its 47 first-half points off those turnovers and 31 of 84 in the game. "The pace of the game was faster but we gave them confidence with their turnovers and it was like a highlight reel," Bulldogs guard Kevin Pangos said. "What we did was just push the tempo," Gordon said. The Wildcats were so impressive even Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant was tweeting about the team during the game. It was clear from the start this was an Arizona team in control. The Wildcats' first points came from a Gordon dunk 38 seconds in that seemed to energize players and the heavy-UA crowd. The next came from a 3-pointer by Gabe York that suggested Arizona had found its perimeter game.
Arizona Wildcats have look of contenders in 84-61 rout of Zags
Arizona Republic | Mar 24