As the Arizona Wildcats’ deficit ballooned to 20 in the first half, an incensed Sean Miller helplessly motioned toward his bench.
The UA coach pulled four starters from the game, including freshman phenom Deandre Ayton, to try to stop the bleeding against a relentless Colorado Buffaloes team.
A team that, unlike his, played hard from the first whistle and it resulted in Arizona picking up its fourth loss of the season.
Miller took the blame afterward.
“You always want your team to play for you as the coach, and our guys they really struggled playing for me — they really do,” he told reporters after the game.“I can’t get them to play hard. We do it for a while. I know we’ve had a win streak.
”With our team, it’s really hard to get our guys to run as fast as they can. That’s not them. That’s me. I have a hard time reaching our guys. I can’t reach them. I really can’t.”
It is certainly not the first time Miller has been less-than-thrilled with Arizona’s intensity this season. Back in November, he went on a 30-minute rant after the Wildcats beat Long Beach State by 35, calling his team’s effort “terrible” and their group “lifeless.”
Miller said then, and reiterated it Saturday, that he has never had a team that’s failed to play with effort quite like this year’s squad.
Why is that the case? In November, Miller cited a lack of veteran leadership combined with a freshman class (including Ayton) that wavers in its effort level. That is still true.
But perhaps Book Richardson’s absence is being overlooked, too.
The former UA assistant, who was fired in September after being linked to an FBI recruiting bribery and corruption probe, was widely lauded as someone who did know how to reach UA’s players.
As soon as Miller said he has been unable to, I immediately thought back to this comment made by a high school coach during that disastrous Bahamas trip:
Book was the coach for Arizona that connected with players and turnt them up during games. Knew how to give them that juice. Push the buttons. Mental game is taken for granted. Other assistants don't have that connect with players from the outside looking in.— Ryan Moose Bailey (@Ryan_Bailey21) November 25, 2017
This was also an interesting comment about Arizona’s players from the mother of former UA recruit Stephen Zimmerman who picked UNLV over Arizona (though she could be talking about former assistant Joe Pasternack, too):
They lost the coach they did want to play for.— Lori Stvns ZimmerMoM (@VegasBballMom) January 7, 2018
Miller was asked earlier in the year how he thought Richardson’s departure has affected both him and the team — after all, this is the first season Miller has been a head coach without Richardson on his staff — but he side-stepped the question.
But it is a legitimate one to ask at this point since Miller is evidently still having trouble getting his team to play with effort.
And if that continues?
“We’ll either fix it, Miller told reporters, “or keep getting our ass kicked.”
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire