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Arizona basketball: Sean Miller reflects on what went wrong in loss to Gonzaga

Why did the Wildcats get off to a slow start? And why didn’t they double team Przemek Karnowski? Sean Miller discusses

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga vs Arizona Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats picked up their second loss in Los Angeles on Saturday, falling 69-62 to a top-ten Gonzaga Bulldogs team at STAPLES Center.

Sean Miller held his weekly press conference Monday, where he explained why things went as haywire as they did.

Reason for slow start?

Gonzaga stormed out to a 17-5 lead less than five minutes into the contest, making its first five shots, plus a trio of 3-pointers. But after that start, the Wildcats outscored the Bulldogs 57-52.

“We can make a statement that we lost that game in the first four minutes against Gonzaga,” UA center Dusan Ristic said.

Arizona, as Miller put it, simply did not look right at tip-off.

“We were apprehensive at the start, they were very, very confident, they were ready,” he said. “I don’t want to say that we weren’t ready — we were ready — but we were a nervous team, we were a team that was unsure of itself. Any time you have to call timeout a couple minutes in, I’m not doing that just because they made a couple shots, I’m doing that because it doesn’t look right.”

Why didn’t it look right? Miller attributed it to youth and the fact Arizona was using a first-time starting lineup due to Parker Jackson-Cartwright’s injury.

“That was the first time that they had ever walked out there together,” Miller said. “It’s in L.A. in the STAPLES Center, three freshmen, and a group of guys that have never been there together, so that start hurt us. We dug ourselves a hole and if you think about being down 12 points at the half, we were down 12 points within three minutes, so really the last 15 minutes of the first half, it was an even game besides that start.”

As the new starting five of Kobi Simmons, Kadeem Allen, Lauri Markkanen, Dusan Ristic, and Rawle Alkins gets more accustomed to each other, Miller believes slow starts will be less common.

“I think that we’ll be a little more sure of ourselves moving forward,” he said. “Certainly that’s my job to get our team locked in, more organized, but that’s the problem when somebody gets hurt in a game. Nobody stops to let you fix it. You go from one game to the next game…and a lot of times you just haven’t had time to reshuffle the deck and that’s our case.

“We have a lot of first time starters... It’s four of the five that have really never started in college before, so I think the more they get used to going out there the better.”

Why didn’t the Wildcats double team Karnowski?

Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski had his way with the Wildcats’ interior defense Saturday, bruising his way to 18 points on 9-13 shooting.

Karnowski was being single-covered on the low block, and he was able to move Ristic and Chance Comanche with ease, allowing him to get high-percentage shots near the rim.

So, why not double him to prevent that?

“He was really what I would call the first really good low-post scorer that we’ve played against,” Miller said of Karnowski. “With that, we elected not to trap. He’s such a great passer and on our end, we’re so inexperienced trapping the post that I think they would open the floodgates even more. But we definitely wanted to provide more support and help, but when you give up those early 3s, your young players are more tentative and we really did a poor job helping out inside.

“I mean, if you let Karnowski take three and four dribbles to score, he’s going to make eight or nine field goals and that’s what he did.”

The hope is that it serves as a learning experience for Arizona.

“Next time we face somebody like him we’ll be more prepared,” Ristic said.

And the Wildcats will not have to wait long to prove that.

Arizona faces UC Irvine’s Ioannis Dimakopoulos on Tuesday. The 7-foot-2 Greek big man is averaging 11.4 points per game for the Anteaters.

“He’s a good player,” said Ristic, who has played against Dimakopoulos in European tournaments. “We have to be ready as a team against him. He’s a good low-post scorer, but also he can shoot from the outside, so we have to be ready for him.”

Miller proud of UA’s resiliency

With the injury to Jackson-Cartwright and Allonzo Trier still out for unspecified reasons, the Wildcats are limited to seven scholarship players for the near future.

With a short bench and some of its key players sidelined, Arizona will have to rely on effort — not talent — to win games.

And while the Wildcats did fall to the Zags, Miller was happy with his team’s resiliency.

“I liked our fight,” he said. “The one thing that I always try to look at is our effort level and for the most part, those guys really hung in there… That was a big reason why we got back in that game. We got a lot of second shots, played with tremendous heart and hustle, and that’s what this team needs to do. We have to be the harder playing team because depth is not in our favor.”

Miller credited Kadeem Allen and Keanu Pinder for being the team’s hardest-working players.

Up next

The Wildcats (6-2) return to action Tuesday when they host UC Irvine (4-4). Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. MST and the game will be televised on the Pac-12 Network.