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Cats Open New Year, Pac-12 vs. Buffs
Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
Release: 12/31/2012
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Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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Dec. 31, 2012

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Date: Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013
Time: 6 p.m. MST
Location: Olson Court, McKale Center (14,538), Tucson, Ariz.
Radio: IMG College/Wildcat Radio Network (Brian Jeffries/Matt Muehlebach)
[Sirius/XM: 94/192]
TV: ESPNU (Roxy Bernstein/Miles Simon)

GAME DATA: Third-ranked Arizona (12-0, 0-0 Pac-12) returns home to McKale Center to host Colorado (10-2, 0-0 Pac-12) Thursday in the Pac-12 Conference opener for both teams ... The Cats are opening its 35th season of Pac-12 competition and the UA has a 23-11 record (.676) in conference openers since its league debut in December 1978 ... In seven home games to date, Arizona shoots 50.8 percent from the field, outrebounds foes by 7.3 rebounds per game and posts a +18.4 scoring margin.

THE RANKINGS: UA is ranked third in the Associated Press poll and is tied for third in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' poll. The Cats' No. 3 ranking is the highest for the program under Sean Miller, and the first time UA has been ranked in the top five in both polls since coming in at No. 3 in each on Jan. 5, 2004.

ARIZONA HEAD COACH Sean Miller . . . is in his fourth season at the University of Arizona and his ninth overall as a college head coach with a record of 201-82 (.710) and 81-35 (.698) at Arizona ... In his eight-plus year career, Miller's teams have won 20 games six times and captured five regular-season or postseason tournament titles ... He guided UA to 30 wins and the 2011 Pac-10 regular-season championship in a run that culminated in the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight, earning Pac-10 Conference and NABC District 20 Coach-of-the-Year honors ... Miller came to Tucson after five successful years at Xavier University, where he amassed four 20-win seasons and four NCAA Tournament appearances ... His clubs won the three Atlantic 10 regular season championships (2007-09) and the 2006 Atlantic 10 postseason tournament title ... During his time at XU, the Musketeers won better than 71 percent of their conference games, including an .813 winning percentage (39-9) in his last three seasons ... Miller has made 16 trips to the postseason in his 19 seasons as a head, assistant or associate head coach (9 NCAA/7 NIT) and has an 9-5 (.643) NCAA Tournament record as a head coach ... He took two Xavier teams to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16 (2008, 2009) with his 2008 club advancing to the West Regional final ... His 2007-08 team set a Xavier record for wins in a season with 30, helping him claim Atlantic 10 and NABC District 10 Coach-of-the-Year honors ... Since becoming a head coach, all 23 players to complete eligibility under Miller have earned their degrees ... Miller has recruited classes ranked in the top-10 nationally in each of the last two seasons ... He is assisted by James Whitford, Emanuel Richardson and Joe Pasternack ... Miller is 2-2 vs. Colorado as a head coach.

LAST TIME OUT: Two Mark Lyons free throws and a Nick Johnson blocked shot in the final 13 seconds sealed a 68-67 win over San Diego State and the Diamond Head Classic title in a game that was better suited for March than Christmas night. The contest featured 11 ties and 10 lead changes with 10 of those coming in the final five minutes. Arizona held a 20-8 advantage in turnover points and a 16-9 lead in second-chance points in a game decided on the final possession. Solomon Hill was named the tournament MVP, while Lyons joined him on the all-tournament team.

SCOUTING COLORADO: The Buffaloes enter tonight's game with a 10-2 record (0-0 Pac-12) following an 80-52 win Dec. 29 vs. Hartford. On the season, CU averages 73.1 points per game, shoots 47.3 percent from the floor (301-of-637), 39.5 percent (68-of-172) from three-point range and 66.3 percent (207-of-312) from the line. Opponents average 64.6 points, are outrebounded by 6.9 per game and shoot 39.0 percent from the floor (281-of-721). Individually, four CU players average in double figures, led by Askia Booker's 14.8 ppg figure. Andre Roberson leads the Buffs in rebounding at 12.1 rebounds per game.

THE SERIES: Tonight's game is the 17th meeting of the two schools with Colorado holding a 10-6 series advantage. Arizona has won four of the last six meetings in the series, which dates back to Dec. 2, 1960, but Colorado took the last, 53-51, in the championship game of the 2012 Pac-12 Tournament, March 10, in Los Angeles. Ten of the previous 16 meetings came in the 1960s. All-time, Arizona is 4-3 in series games played in Tucson, 1-6 in Boulder, and 1-1 in neutral-site games. For more series information, please see page 47 in the UA media guide.

LAST MEETING: Colorado 53, Arizona 51, March 10, 2012: After finding itself down by 12 points with 9:09 remaining, Arizona rallied but could not convert a game-winning trey at the buzzer. UA climbed back in by forcing CU to miss nine consecutive field goal attempts down the stretch, but it was not enough to overcome the Buffs, who outrebounded Arizona, 37-29, and limited the Cats to 36.7 percent shooting. Kyle Fogg led Arizona with 14 points.

FOR (CONFERENCE) OPENERS: Since joining the Pac-10 Conference in 1978-79, Arizona has a 23-11 (.676) record in conference openers. Of those 34 previous openers, the Cats are 12-0 when opening at home and 11-11 when opening on the road. Arizona last opened conference play at home in 2007-08.

A CHAMPIONSHIP EFFORT: Solomon Hill led Arizona to the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic championship with 21 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists to go with a .467 field goal percentage (7-of-15) in the title-game win over No. 17 San Diego State. The senior forward connected on a season high seven field goals and got to the free throw line a season-best 12 times and added a blocked shot in the win over the Aztecs. His efforts earned him Diamond Head Classic most valuable player honors and gave Arizona its second win this season over a nationally ranked opponent. Hill averaged 12.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.0 steals per game in Arizona's three-game tournament run in Honolulu. On the season, Hill averages 12.7 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game.

LIKE THE GOOD OL' DAYS: The Christmas night victory over SDSU gave Arizona its first in-season tournament championship that it did not host since the 2001 Coaches vs. Cancer IKON Classic. Arizona defeated No. 2 Maryland, 71-67, and No. 5 Florida, 75-71, on Nov. 8-9, 2001, in New York City to claim that title. Forward Solomon Hill, who was named tournament MVP, and guard Mark Lyons were selected to the Diamond Head Classic all-tournament team.

STRONG OUT OF THE GATE: By winning the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic, Arizona improved to 12-0 and equaled the program's best start to a season since the 1987-88 squad also opened the season 12-0. Prior to 1987-88, the best start for the Wildcat cagers came in 1931-32, when Coach Fred A. Enke's club won its first 16 games en route to an 18-2 campaign.

OWNING THE GLASS: Rebounding was a key in UA's run to the title in Honolulu, as the Wildcats outrebounded ETSU, Miami and SDSU by an average margin of 14.3 caroms per game. UA opened the event with a +19 margin (46-27) over ETSU and followed that with a +26 advantage (46-20) over Miami. Four Cats averaged better than 5.0 boards per game in those three games. In 2012-13, UA has outrebounded nine of 12 foes, and its +10.1 rebound margin is second among Pac-12 teams.

MAKE IT TOUGH ON THEM: Arizona limited its opponents in Hawaii to a cumulative .370 (61-of-165) field goal percentage. Through 12 games, Arizona has held opponents to less than 40 percent shooting eight times and holds a .389 (255-of-656) field goal percentage defense figure, a mark that ranks third in the Pac-12 Conference.

HANGING IN THERE: In a game in which it shot a season-low 29.4 percent from the field in the first half and finished with a shooting percentage less than 40 percent (.373), Arizona managed to defeat San Diego State simply by taking care of the ball and taking advantage of available opportunities. UA forced 16 SDSU turnovers, while committing just a season-low eight itself, enjoyed a 20-8 bulge in turnover points, and converted 13 offensive rebounds into a 16-9 advantage in second chance points. It marked the second time this season (at Clemson, Dec. 8) that the Cats shot less than 40 percent from the field and still won the game.

LIKE WE USED TO: Another area that continues to show improvement is UA's three-point field goal percentage defense. Tuesday against, SDSU, the Wildcats held the Aztecs to a 23.5 percent figure (4-of-17) and in the three tournament games, allowed opponent to connect on just 25.4 percent (15-of-59) of its shots from behind the arc. Opponents are shooting .351 (82-of-231) percent from behind the arc in 12 games.

A POSITIVE APPROACH: Much has been made of Arizona's turnovers, as the Cats average 14.5 miscues per game. However, Arizona has been even better at forcing turnovers and holds a +1.1 turnover margin to date. UA enjoyed a +8 turnover margin against SDSU and has posted a positive margin eight times in 12 starts in 2012-13. UA converts turnovers more efficiently into points than the opposition, as it outscores its foes by an average of +7.4 points per game when it comes to turnover points.

A DIFFERENCE MAKER: Simply put, Arizona does not win the Diamond Head Classic without Kevin Parrom. Against San Diego State, the 6-foot-6 swingman posted a season-high 17 points, grabbed five rebounds and passed out a pair of assists. Of his season-high seven FGs against the Aztecs, four either tied the score or gave the Cats the lead, including three buckets in the second half. And for good measure, it was Parrom who chased down the rebound following Nick Johnson's block of Chase Tapley to end the game. Parrom, who averaged 11.7 points and 6.0 rebounds during the Diamond Head Classic, is averaging 8.9 points and 4.9 rebounds per game this season to go with a .471 field goal percentage.

THE EARLY RETURNS ARE GOOD: With the non-conference portion of the schedule in the books, it's become clear that Mark Lyons gives Arizona another proven playmaker on the court. While his nine-points and team-high three assists weren't necessarily jaw-dropping against SDSU, it is worth noting that it was his dribble drive on UA's last possession that drew a foul and sent him to the line for what became the game's decisive points. Arizona has two one-point wins over ranked opponents this season and Lyons has scored the decisive points both in the wins over San Diego State and Florida. And for good measure, the 6-foot-1 senior now leads Arizona with 38 assists to go with his 13.4 ppg average and has a positive assist:turnover ratio.

EVERYONE CONTRIBUTES: Two of UA's freshmen big guys proved to be an effective duo against the Aztecs on Dec. 25, as Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett combined for 10 points and 13 rebounds (four offensive) in the title game. Ashley, a 6-foot-8 forward from San Francisco, Calif., posted nine points and seven boards, while Jerrett, a 6-foot-10 forward from Chino Hills, Calif., grabbed six rebounds and added a block. On the year, this duo combines for 14.5 points and 10.3 boards per game.

QUIET CONTRIBUTIONS: En route to Diamond Head Classic most-valuable-player honors, senior forward Solomon Hill posted the fifth 20-point game of his career. Hill, who has moved into the top 40 of Arizona's career scoring list, currently ranks second on the team with a 12.7 ppg average. The 6-foot-7 forward was good at getting to the line in Honolulu, attempting a team-high 19 charity attempts (season-high 12 vs. SDSU) and has scored a team-high 45 points from the free throw line this season.

MULTIFACETED: Nick Johnson's blocked shot on San Diego State's final offensive possession Tuesday, was another indication of the sophomore's ability to affect the game in more ways than just by putting the ball in the basket. The 6-foot-3 guard from Gilbert, Ariz., leads the Wildcats with 28 steals, ranks third with 38 defensive rebounds and 35 assists, and has three blocked shots to his credit. Further, his current 12.7 ppg scoring average is 3.8 ppg better than his freshman-year output.

RECRUITING CLASS: The Arizona coaching staff signed two student-athletes to National-Letters-of-Intent as part of the November early signing period. Rondae Jefferson (F, 6-7, 215) from Chester, Pa., who preps at Chester H.S.; and Elliott Pitts (G, 6-5, 180) from Dublin, Calif., who preps at De La Salle H.S.; make up a class that is ranked No. 18 nationally by espn.com.

UP NEXT: Following tonight's Pac-12 opener, Arizona returns to action on Saturday, Jan. 5, when the Cats host Utah in McKale Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 3 p.m. MST and can be seen on the Pac-12 Networks.

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