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Arizona looking to improve effort, defense against ‘really talented’ UNLV team

And to secure their first road win, of course

UMBC v Arizona Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats snapped their three-game losing streak Wednesday with a 35-point victory over Long Beach State.

The Wildcats (4-3) shot over 60 percent from the field and held the 49ers to 41 percent shooting. They looked more like the team that was preseason No. 3 than the unranked team that got shellacked in the Bahamas.

Yet, they still got a 30-minute tongue-lashing from Sean Miller afterward.

The UA head coach called his team’s effort “terrible” and said the roster is “not that talented” along with several other not-so-uplifting things.

“We have a lot of younger players that probably don’t have enough evidence yet to realize how hard it is to win in college basketball, how hard you have to play. We have a couple veterans that aren't showing the way,” Miller said. “That combination is who we are right now.”

The goal of Miller’s tirade, it is suspected, is to prevent the Wildcats from getting complacent heading into Saturday’s game against the UNLV Rebels, UA’s first true road game of the season.

“We need guys playing with their heart and soul and playing with great effort,” Miller said before the team departed for Las Vegas. “If we go to UNLV and we pick and choose how hard we play and we’re trying to figure it out, we’re not going to win. Our only hope is to play with great effort. And if we play with great effort and we lose, we’ll keep getting better. That’s so much right now of where we’re at.

“We have enough evidence in the Bahamas that a big part of our failure was inconsistent effort on defense and we’re trying to fix that. It’s not being nice and giving everybody a hug when you walk in when you’re trying to fix that. That is the hardest thing to do as a coach — to get a group of guys to buy in to playing hard when they’re not.”

UNLV will present a challenge, to be sure. The Rebels are 6-1 and enter with the No. 30 offense and No. 35 defense in the country. They beat the Utah Utes by 27 earlier in the season. Their lone loss was a 77-68 overtime defeat at the hands of Northern Iowa (you can read more about UNLV here).

Arizona is just 1-8 all-time against the Rebels in Las Vegas.

“It seems like they’re a really talented group,” Miller said. “Last time we went to Thomas and Mack, we took a great team in there and lost so I think we know what we’re up against.”

Indeed, in 2014-15 Arizona — despite being loaded with T.J. McConnell, Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, etc. — lost to UNLV 71-67 in Thomas and Mack Center.

That was that Arizona team’s first loss of the season and it only finished with four all year. This year’s version already has three losses, and Miller wouldn’t be surprised if it leaves Vegas with a fourth.

More than that, he just wants to see improvement in the team’s defensive effort.

“I’m not scared to lose,” Miller said. “We could lose every game. That’s just part of athletics, that’s all part of it, if you get real tight and all of a sudden you can’t tie your tie because you’re worried about losing, then you’re not going to be a very effective leader or coach. We could lose. We could lose the next two games for sure. We can lose six in a row. We’ve lost three in a row.

"But it’s really not that as it’s about where we’re at as a group. It’s about establishing a way of doing things every day. How hard are you working? How hard are you working in practice? How does it carry into a game? The mistakes we are really watching and… we see some improvement from the last game to this game.”

How to watch

Game time: 8 p.m. MST

TV: CBS Sports Network

Live stream: CBS Sports Live Stream

How to listen

Radio stream: Arizona IMG Radio Network

Satellite Radio: Sirius 126, XM 198

All-time series

Overall: UNLV leads 12-8

In Tucson: Arizona leads 6-2

In Las Vegas: UNLV leads 8-1

At neutral sites: UNLV leads 2-1

Miller vs. UNLV: Series tied 2-2

Last meeting: Arizona won 82-70 in Tucson on Dec. 19, 2015

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire