The Arizona Wildcats had another near-late-game collapse in their win over the USC Trojans on Thursday, as the Trojans almost came back from a 23-point second-half deficit.
The Wildcats ultimately escaped with a 73-66 road win, but Sean Miller is getting tired of his team’s lack of effort down the stretch.
“I’m very excited about winning,” Miller told reporters after the game. “If we get to a point within our own locker room of not feeling good about a road win in L.A. against a very, very good USC team, this isn’t going to be very fun. Having said that, there’s a bigger story within our own team. We’ve kinda been that first-half team defensively. I think tonight we played for about 26 minutes.
“Our ability to endure, our ability to play for 40 minutes, to give everything you have for Arizona all the way to the finish line is non-existent.”
The Trojans were held to 19 points in the first half, but scored 47 points in the second half. A week ago, nearly the same thing happened against Arizona. ASU scored 25 points in the first half, but 50 in the second half against the Wildcats.
“I wish I had an answer. I don’t, and I think some of it might be depth, some of it is certainly playing a youthful group,” Miller said. “But this isn’t the first time a team went on a 30-11 run. I think it’s about the sixth time. And we’ve hung on like this in the past a number of times, and it’s really a bad sign moving forward because as thrilled as we are with the win — we beat a quality team — if you just continue to see teams go on like a 40-10, 30-8, 20-0, 16-2 run, you have to address it as a coach.”
And Miller plans to address it by benching players.
“What I’m going to start doing is sitting a couple guys and then everybody’s going to know that the reason they’re sitting is he’s not giving effort, he’s not playing hard enough,” Miller said. “Because one thing you can control as a team is your effort level. We gave up on our effort level too many times in the second half. When you play against a team like that, they had a chance to win a game that I think we were up by 21 with 14 minutes left.
“And you say ‘coach that happens’, it’s happened 10 times. In my time, I’ve never coached a team that this has happened. Usually if it happens, we should be like 10-9 because you can’t hold on. We’re 17-2 and we give these runs up.”
Arizona’s lack of depth might be causing the Wildcats’ second-half drop off in more ways than one. Not just because players get tired, but also because it essentially forces Miller to use players even if they aren’t giving adequate effort.
“It’s a pattern with our team, and it’s a pattern that we have to break,” Miller said. “It’s my job to break it, and if we have to take a loss because guys don’t understand that you can’t just pick and choose how hard you play then we’ll do that.
“And if we had one more player, I don’t think you’d see that out of us because some of these guys would never play, because they’re not playing hard enough.”
The downside, according to Miller, is that Arizona does not have much time to fix its issues. The Wildcats face the No. 3 UCLA Bruins on Saturday at 1 p.m. local time.
And if the Wildcats’ effort level wavers against the Bruins like it has too many times this season, it’s going to be a long day in Westwood.
“If we do that against UCLA, they’ll beat us by 30 points,” Miller said. “That’s one thing I know.”
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