Wildcats keep the close wins coming


Wildcats keep the close wins coming

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) Seven points in 56 seconds. A blocked shot from out of nowhere. A waved off 3-pointer, another that danced around the rim like a pachinko ball before falling away.

The fourth-ranked Arizona Wildcats are fortunate to still be undefeated and they know it.

``We've been lucky for a couple of weeks now,'' Arizona swingman Kevin Parrom said. ``The luck is going to run out soon. We have to play better.''

Arizona (14-0, 2-0) is off to its best start since winning the first 16 games in 1931-32 and is still among the top 5 teams in the country.

The Wildcats are big, athletic, deep, love to play defense and have one of the best coaches in the country, the kind of team that can make a deep run into March, maybe even into April.

But there's no doubting Arizona has gotten some good breaks to keep its perfect start rolling.

On Dec. 15, the Wildcats beat Florida in a matchup of top-10 teams by overcoming a six-point deficit in the final 56 seconds. Arizona pulled out the 1-point victory when senior Mark Lyons scored on a heavily contested layup with 7 seconds left.

The Wildcats pulled out another 1-point win over a Top 25 opponent at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii when sophomore guard Nick Johnson swooped in from the weak side and swatted away what looked to be an uncontested layup by San Diego State guard Chase Tapley.

Arizona grabbed a pair of hanging-by-a-thread victories last week.

The first, against Colorado on Jan. 3, came after a banked-in 3-pointer by the Buffaloes' Sabatino Chen at the end of regulation was waved off by the officials after a replay. The Wildcats dominated after the disputed ruling - some replays showed Chen got the shot off - and pulled away in overtime for a nine-point win.

Two day later, Arizona struggled defensively in the second half against Utah and had to watch as a potential tying 3-pointer by Utes guard Jarred DuBois hit the rim, bounced off the top of the backboard and hit the rim again before falling harmlessly to the floor.

Any one of those plays goes the other way and the Wildcats are no longer undefeated.

Thing is, all those plays went in Arizona's favor and they are undefeated, which few teams can say at this point in the season.

``If the objective is to win by the biggest margin we possibly can, then we're failing in that area,'' Arizona coach Sean Miller said. ``But I know that we're 14-0 and at 14-0 you have to be in a number of close games, and we've been on the positive end of them. I hope we can continue to do that.''

The Wildcats will need to clean a few things up to keep it up.

Arizona has struggled at times to get the ball into the low post and its freshmen big men have, as freshmen often tend to do, had some breakdowns defensively and disappeared on offense at times.

The Wildcats have struggled with turnovers all season and occasionally go into shooting funks from the perimeter. They've also struggled at defending the 3-point line and sometimes foul opponents or let them score late in the shot clock after playing good defense for 30 seconds.

Miller has pared down his rotation over the past month or so and has often gone with his veterans over the freshmen down the stretch of tight games. As the inconsistencies have continued to crop up, Miller has turned more and more to the players who will play the way he wants them to.

``If you're tentative, then you can be tentative on the bench,'' Miller said. ``We have a couple of guys right now who have to step up and defend, play hard, be responsible. Do the things that we recruited them to do, do the things we talk about. We're not going to keep making the same mistakes.''

It doesn't figure to get any easier for the Wildcats as they dive into the bulk of the Pac-12 season.

Arizona heads to the Northwest this week to face Oregon and Oregon State, somewhat surprising teams that have combined for 22 victories. After that, the Wildcats face rival Arizona State, which has made solid improvement this season with the addition of point guard Jahii Carson, and seven more weeks of games in a conference that includes athletic teams like Colorado, UCLA and Washington.

``We have a bull's eye on our back. We have to understand that,'' Parrom said. ``Games are going to be tough from here on out. We're (No. 4) in the nation, undefeated and we have to play harder. Nobody is giving us anything easy.''

At least the Wildcats are pulling out these close victories.

A year ago, one of the criticisms about Miller's team was that it couldn't pull out the close victories. That young team missed the NCAA tournament after reaching the regional final the season before.

This season, Arizona has a solid core of veteran players to lean on, including Parrom, Johnson, Jordin Mayes and senior forward Solomon Hill. The Wildcats also added Lyons, a graduate transfer from Xavier who has become their go-to guy in crunch time, including his shot against Florida and two big free throws against Utah.

``At the end of the game, we're good,'' Parrom said.

They've proven that. They're hoping not to have to keep doing it.

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Dwight Howard reportedly takes another positive step in post-surgery recovery

Dwight Howard reportedly takes another positive step in post-surgery recovery

Dwight Howard is back. Back in town, at least.

According to a report from The Athletic, the Wizards’ center, sidelined since undergoing back surgery on Nov. 30, is expected to start on-court work in Washington.

The original timeline indicated a 2-3 month recovery timeline for Howard, who played in nine games for the Wizards but none since Nov. 18 against Portland. Howard, 33, has primarily rehabbed post-surgery in his native Atlanta.

Washington returns to practice Wednesday following the NBA All-Star break. The Wizards, 24-34, face the Hornets Friday in Charlotte before hosting the Indiana Pacers Saturday.

Needing to jump three teams for a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, the Wizards could certainly use more help. Whether that help comes from Howard remains to be seen. The report did not indicate if Howard would rejoin the team's full practices or when he would return to the lineup.

Howard missed training camp, preseason and the opening seven games while dealing with back and gluteal pain. The future Hall of Famer only played seven minutes against the Trail Blazers before exiting.

Less than two weeks later Dr. Robert Watkins performed a L4-L5 lumbar microdiscectomy after consultation with the Wizards’ medical staff determined disc herniation was causing severe nerve irritation and gluteal pain.

Washington signed the free agent center to a two-year, $11 million contract in July after trading longtime starter Marcin Gortat in June. The Wizards hoped Howard’s interior presence on both ends of the court would provide the team with needed low-post scoring, rebounding and rim protection.

Though he averaged 12.8 points and 9.2 rebounds, Howard labored athletically. Washington struggled throughout the season on the boards.

His absence created an opportunity for second-year center Thomas Bryant, who has developed into an efficient scorer and energy provider.

The second season on Howard’s contract is a player option, an option he seemed likely to execute without returning to the court this season. For now, the question is how much can he help the Wizards with 24 games remaining.


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2019 NFL Mock Draft Roundup: Who are the Redskins taking at 15?

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2019 NFL Mock Draft Roundup: Who are the Redskins taking at 15?

As the calendar turns toward spring, one thing consumes the NFL: mock drafts. Leading up to the NFL Draft on April 25, many will try to predict which players each of the 32 teams will select. Though no one will know for sure until the names are called, it's still interesting to see what potential directions teams might go in.

Let's take a look at what some people believe the Redskins will do with their first round pick.

ESPN's Mel Kiper's NFL Mock Draft 2.0: Drew Lock (QB, Missouri) Kiper currently has Washington taking a quarterback in the first-round, but maybe not the one people were expecting. While Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins are viewed as first-round locks by many, the Missouri product's placement in the draft is not as certain. In this scenario, Kiper has Murray and Haskins off the board before Washington gets on the clock, making Lock the best available passer remaining. In his senior seaosn, Lock finished with 3,498 passing yards and 28 touchdowns.

CBS Sports' R.J. White: Devin White (ILB, LSU) Not a quarterback here. White has the Redskins using a pick on the junior linebacker. With questions surrounding what will happen with Zach Brown as well as pass-rushing linebacker Preston Smith, White could fill a need for the Redskins. 

CBS Sports' Ryan Wilson and Chris Trapasso: Daniel Jones (QB, Duke) The Redskins take a passer in both of these mocks as well, just a different one. Jones, the junior from Duke, slides in at No. 15 behind both Murray and Haskins. However, Wilson also has Lock going before the Redskins pick, while Trapasso has him falling to No. 28. 

Bleacher Report's Kristopher Knox: Daniel Jones (QB, Duke) More Jones here for the Redskins. The passer, who threw for 22 touchdowns in 2018, is the fourth quarterback off the board in this mock draft as Haskins, Murray and Lock all go in the top 10. 

USA Today's Luke Easterling: Daniel Jones (QB, Duke) Starting to see a theme here? Not only does this mock draft have the Redskins selecting Jones, but it has them moving up to No. 12 to make the selection. Easterling describes Jones as, "a raw but promising passer." 

NFL Analyst Charley Casserly: Daniel Jones (QB, Duke) Describing him as a passer with "excellent field vision, anticipation and accuracy," Casserly likes Jones in Washington.

NBC Sports Washington's Ben Standig: Montez Sweat (DE, Mississippi St.) As mentioned earlier, Preston Smith's time with the burgundy and gold could be coming to an end. Sweat, who recorded 11.5 sacks last season, impressed at the Senior Bowl and could make an impact from Day 1. While many see the Redskins taking a quarterback, Standig sees inside linebacker as a priority