Arizona’s senior leaders Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom make their final appearance in front of home fans on Saturday against Arizona State.
The duo has led the Wildcats to a 23-6 record, ranking in the top 10 for 13 consecutive weeks. Arizona is one of 11 teams nationally to have been ranked in every AP poll this season.
That’s just one season. In their four seasons at Arizona they have dedicated their lives to basketball and contributed their talents to transform Arizona into a successful basketball program.
Over the last four years, the Cats have won 92 games, including a 55-11 record in the McKale Center, won more than 20 games in each of the last three seasons, including 2010-11’s 30-win season. Arizona advanced to the NCAA Tournament twice, made one trip to the Elite Eight, and claimed the 2011 Pac-10 championship.
What makes these two seniors so special is that they came to Arizona the same year as their head coach Sean Miller.
Of course, there is that special bond as coach Miller has had four years to guide Hill and Parrom and watch them grow and improve on their game.
Sean Miller reflects on the first time he met Solomon Hill and what him playing for Arizona means to him.
“I met Solomon for the first time in Fairfax High School,” Miller said. “He didn’t know me and I didn’t know him. He took a great leap of faith to come to Arizona at a desperate time and we’re thankful that he did.”
Miller appreciates what Kevin Parrom has brought to the team and how he left New York City to come all the way to Arizona.
“He had no reason to come out here but believed in what we were doing and came out here,” Miller said. “He’s gone through so many things off the court that could have derailed him but he stayed with it and he’s playing really well right now.”
Kevin Parrom has been through a lot in his four years at Arizona, but he never let that stop him from doing what he loved. From being shot twice, to losing his mom to cancer, it was not only basketball that kept him motivated but his mom, in spirit, that kept him going as well. Saturday’s game is for his mom and he’s determined to get the win for her.
“She doesn’t like us losing,” Parrom said. So, I’m just going to try to win the last game for her. We are going to win. I can’t lose on my last game. I can’t accept that.”
Despite being swept last week, Kevin Parrom averaged 13.5 points, 4 rebounds and 1 assist per game, while shooting 64.3 percent from the field to go with a block and a steal while in Southern California.
Parrom opened the week with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting and four boards on Wednesday at USC. He added 11 points and four rebounds on Saturday at UCLA. It marked his third straight game in double figures, a streak that equals a career long. He is shooting 49.4 percent from the field and averages 8.5 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.
The Wildcats started off their season with a 14-0 record. Solomon Hill is striving to find that team that Arizona once was to close out the regular season and compete in both the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments.
“We want to find the team that was in McKale when we played against Florida,” Hill said. “We were a tougher defensive team. I think if we get back to the team that we were, we’ll have the same figures that we had earlier on in our season.”
To accomplish this goal, it has been all about competing in practice and all about defense. Hill is not taking it easy on his teammates. For him, it’s about going hard on his teammates to make them better.
“Defense is the key important part to winning,” Hill said. “I think offensively we have always been able to score but you have to be able to stop the other team. I think defense is something that will really be able to take us to the next level and take us deep within March.”
Solomon Hill averages 33 minutes per game with 13.6 points, shooting 45 percent from the field, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.7 assists. Against USC he amassed 21 points, six assists and five steals.
Having lost four of its last seven games, two back-to-back, Arizona can relate to Arizona State in terms of adversity. The Sun Devils have lost five of its last seven, including three in a row. The Wildcats know not to underestimate what is at stake for the opponent. Neither team wants to go into the conference tournament losing three or four in a row.
In their last matchup back in January, Arizona won 71-54 led by Mark Lyons who scored 15 of his game-high 24 points in the second half. The Cats shot 56 percent from the field and outscored the Sun Devils 42-28 in the closing period. Nick Johnson added 19 points, while Solomon Hill chipped in with 13 points, six rebounds, and a game-high five assists.
Arizona State has four relentless players in Jahii Carson, Carrick Felix, Evan Gordon and Jordan Bachynski. Carson averages 17.8 points per game shooting 46 percent from the field and five assists. Felix adds 14 points per game, shooting 50 percent and eight rebounds. Gordon brings 10 points per game while Bachynski brings 9.7 points, shooting 59 percent from the field and 6.3 rebounds.
Miller is well aware of the force Arizona State can be and knows this game will be competitive, especially under leader Carrick Felix.
“Well, Carrick Felix has had a remarkable season,” Miller said. “I voted for him for the Most Improved Player in our conference and I also voted for him as one of the best players in our conference. When you look at his rebounding alone it is amazing what he has done for his team and you appreciate seeing those guys who have been through it.”
Whether Felix had an off game or not, the Wildcats were able to hold him to five points, shooting 1-of-8 from the field, with seven turnovers and four fouls.
Sean Miller knows that Carrick Felix will not play that way again and for Arizona to come out with the win, it is, again, all about defense.
“For us it’s the same story,” Miller said. “Our defense has to improve or regain its form. Our defense was in tact. We were playing really hard and together on defense and that was really in place and the big reason we were able to win.”
The Pac-12 conference has been no joke this year. The twelve-team conference has five teams that are true competitors, UCLA, USC, California, Colorado and Arizona. In the four years Sean Miller has been apart of the conference, this year is the deepest he’s seen the Pac-12 in terms of talent and competition.
For Arizona, conference play has been a struggle because it is another playing field. It is more of a rivalry game than a regular game against teams like Miami and Clemson.
Arizona’s struggles have been apparent. From its defense to experience, the Wildcats are trying to find the identity they once had and this week of practice has been a search to find that.
“You have two factions of people on our team, seniors who are on their last leg and some newcomers who are just beginning,” Miller said. “Of course, you have guys trying to pick each other up but this week has been good for that because we have been together a lot and we have worked really hard.”
Reunited and rejuvenated, the Wildcats are ready to bring that winning team to the McKale Center against the Arizona State Sun Devils.