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March 18. 2014 8:10PM

March Madness

Following trends, don’t bet against Arizona, Claremont's Tarczewski


Arizona Wildcats center Kaleb Tarczewski (35) dunks against the UCLA Bruins during the first half in the championship game of the Pac-12 Conference college basketball tournament at MGM Grand Garden Arena. (Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

If his personal NCAA tournament coaching trend continues this year, Sean Miller is taking the Arizona Wildcats to the Final Four.

You can book it.

In six previous trips to the NCAA tournament as a head coach, Miller has never lost a game as the better seed. And this year ... he has a No. 1-seeded team.

So by that logic, Oklahoma State, San Diego State, Wisconsin — whatever team pops up in Arizona’s West Region path — all go down.

If you believe in history repeating itself, that is.

“I sure hope that streak continues,” Miller said. If so “there will be a lot of great moments over the next three or four weeks.”

Of course, the Wildcats, with Claremont, N.H.’s Kaleb Tarczewski at center, didn’t make the NCAA tournament at all during rebuilding seasons in 2009-10 and 2011-12, and they have lost as No. 1 seeds in the Pac-12 tournament and the NIT under Miller.

And, in the Pac-12 tournament at least, Miller has seen things flip upside down. The Wildcats lost in the final twice as the No. 1 seed under Miller, in 2011 and this season.

“I think sometimes you can make too much of what’s happened in the past,” Miller said. “You’ve gotta stay in the present. We’ve been in the conference tournament championship game three of the past four years and we’ve lost really hard-fought games almost on the last possession all three times.

“Sometimes you can really start saying, ‘Wow I wonder why that is?’ We may win the next three. I don’t know.”

But that was just the Pac-12 tournament. While the 2012 league tourney loss cost UA a desperately needed automatic NCAA bid, the NCAA tournament is the one everyone cares about.

And, in that field, Miller’s teams have yet to disappoint.

How?

Once again Sunday, Miller exhibited a steely focus on the immediate game ahead, UA’s opener on Friday against Weber State, talking about the strong shooting and savvy coaching of the Utah-based Wildcats and making them sound worrisome even as a No. 16 seed.

You can bet he’ll spend the rest of this week talking to his team about underestimating Weber State.

“The NCAA tournament, when you enter it, you have to enter it with that single-mindedness, that it can be taken away quickly,” Miller said. “You have to be ready to go, take nothing for granted.

“As you guys know, if you start looking at some of the teams’ stats in the first round or two, it’s just amazing. I don’t know if there’s much of a difference once you get into the tournament.”

Although Miller will be taking a team that will likely be favored into every West Region game it plays — the Wildcats were often underdogs as a No. 5 seed in 2010-11 and a No. 6 in 2012-13 — Arizona does have some practice wearing a target on its back.

Like, virtually all of this season, ever since the Wildcats beat Duke and Michigan in nonconference play, then bolted into the new year with what became a school-record 21-0 start.

In all three of UA’s regular-season losses — at Cal, Arizona State and Oregon — beating the Wildcats was considered a big enough deal that fans stormed the court.

But the Wildcats left those courts, moved on, and won their next game each time.

“Part of going through a long season with a highly ranked team is going through the process, blocking out the outside and just making sure we hold ourselves to that standard — are we working hard, getting better and all-in?” Miller said.

“You do that so when you get to this time of year, you don’t have to say to everyone, ‘OK, now you’re not allowed to do what you’ve done for the last four months.’

“You hope that this week is very similar to the previous 12 weeks. If that’s the case, that’s going to give us the best chance to be successful on Friday.”


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