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What Sean Miller said at his pre-Baylor press conference

<span data-author="5158751">sean-miller-arizona-wildcats-college-basketball-press-conference-baylor-bears </span> Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats are in the midst of a six-day stretch between their last game—a three-point loss Sunday at Alabama—and Saturday’s home game against Baylor. While not ideal, it is by design, allowing players to take finals for the fall semester with as little interruption as possible.

“Most of our guys are right in the middle of the finals,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “We have a few guys that are pretty much finished up today, but I’d say for the most part all of our guys have more to do. It’s a very stressful time for any student in college finals week and for our players it’s no different being student athletes juggling the demands of practice in addition to preparation for finals, taking the test, all that that takes out of you.”

Miller called it a “challenging week” because of the need to adjust the normal practice schedule to accommodate test periods while also being able to prepare for a Baylor team that will present a lot of the same problems Alabama did.

Saturday’s 9 p.m. tipoff—take that, football fans who complain about late kickoffs—marks the start of a five-game homestand that includes the start of Pac-12 play in early January. Before that, though, Arizona will face three final non-league foes in an eight-day span.

“It’s certainly a time in the season where you know more about your team than you ever knew before or 10 games in, but yet you have so much basketball and to realize the things that we need to improve on and do it,” Miller said. “That’s what I think a week like this week gives us a great opportunity to just really practice and work and prepare without any games or travel. I think when we get to Friday just about everybody will be done and then we can focus on the remainder of our nonconference schedule,” Miller said.

Here’s what else Miller said at his media availability ahead of the Baylor game:

On balancing finals with basketball:

“It’s a very difficult week. Just to make sure they get their rest and take care of themselves because they know they have the stress of that exam and the final grade looming. I think we go and try to do the best that we can to kind of help support them, make sure that we’re really in great communication with how they’re feeling. Our guys have taken care of things and we had a hard practice yesterday, a good practice.”

On staying consistent, offensively and defensively:

“No matter how hard we try, if you have a team that has great team chemistry, there’s always going to be a pocket, maybe several pockets throughout the long course of a season where even though you have great team chemistry it’s challenged at some point. We have 13 different players all with different roles coming from various backgrounds. The highs and lows of everything takes its toll. I think if you have a team that plays with great effort and energy, it’s very difficult for that to be the case for every single game.”

On assessing the Alabama loss a few days after the fact:

“Credit Alabama … they were ready and they did a great job. But by far out of the 10 games that we’ve played, that was our worst performance if we grade ourselves. We didn’t have the wherewithal, the will, the energy, the discipline sometimes to be good enough on defense. Our transition defense...it really left us for most of the game and to play against a team like Alabama that has multiple guys that can do things in transition. You kind of feed into what they’re good at.”

On the importance of defensive rebounding:

At the end of the (Alabama) game our defensive rebounding left us when we really needed to get a stop, when we really needed to just get one or two key defensive rebounds. It’s hard enough to make the team miss and not foul and when you don’t foul and you get them to miss a shot and you can’t get that rebound, it breaks your back. And that’s really what happened. I think we had a flurry of five out of seven possessions in the last five minutes where they missed a shot against our defense and they got a second shot. That’s also happened to our team in Maui where the game broke open against Gonzaga. When we get out rebounded it’s harder for us to win and when we rebound with equal or more, the chances of us winning really increase. The Alabama game is a great example. The difference of three rebounds was the difference in the game. Our emphasis moving forward is, especially against Baylor, is to be a team that blocks out that, that has guys give unreal effort on the glass. It’s not just our big guys, it’s all five. Our guards have just as much responsibility. And getting players to come in the game who don’t start to really do that well.”

On building off that game:

“We’ve watched it, we’ve talked about it. Sometimes the best reminder is a loss. So there’s a lot of great lessons to be learned from our Alabama game. Unfortunately, we took a loss in a game which either team could have won.”

On getting Ira Lee to play up to his potential:

Ira Lee hasn’t played his best recently, but he’s clearly a much, much better player than he’s played recently. We’re trying to get him back. (Rebounding is) something Ira does really well and he could give us that additional rebounding on both ends. This is a week where I think he can get both feet on the ground and play more minutes and get him solidified in a role that can help our team because he’s somebody that is part of the solution to our rebounding. Ira Lee’s a good player and we watch him every day. Players go through different parts of the year where their confidence can waver and no doubt that’s the period of time that he’s in. But you can quickly bounce out of it and get out of it. The good news is this is a week where we really have five or six days where we’re not playing a game and we can focus on ourselves. Someone like Ira can really focus on stringing together consecutive good practices which will lead into the game, but we need him. This team needs him. He’s definitely part of the solution. When you start talking about who’s the best rebounder on our team, per minute played, it’s him. Him and Chase are our top two rebounders everyday. Ira is going to improve. I’m confident of that.”

On Lee’s penchant for committing fouls:

“Certainly slowing down, not setting illegal screens, not fouling, those are all things that are under his control. We’re really trying to show him the areas that he can clean up, that we can help him clean up, coach him, teach him and then have him carry that into the game. He’s a big part of our future and we want to keep it that way. He might be our team’s best screener. He takes great pride in doing it, he can really move. He’s agile. He takes pride in it and he’s not a little guy. When he hits you, good things happen for our team. It’s just the discipline of, like, jump-stopping instead of having your feet continue to move. Not ever using your arms, and sometimes he does both of those other things. Game experience cures that, and that’s something that’s plagued Ira and our team. We’re working hard with him to get out of that. He can go stretches without a turnover and without some of these fouls, that’s how you build confidence as well.”

On getting back on defense:

“Part of transition defense is what you do on offense because what ignites a lot of transition opportunities is poor play on offense, lack of execution, a turnover, a quick shot that’s a bad shot. We had a few of those things happen as well, which puts more pressure on our transition defense and on the road that’s even more important because, as you know, dunks and transition flurries on a home court ignites the crowd and it starts to work against you.”

On taking only nine foul shots against Alabama:

“We’ve traditionally done a good job of getting to the free throw line and when you can’t get there, that hurts. And that hurt us in the Alabama game. We became a jump-shooting team, not just threes, but some of our twos were just 15-foot, 17-foot pull-ups Can’t really say we didn’t get the ball inside because Chase Jeter had maybe his best overall offensive night. When he got it, he scored it. We can maybe have gotten it to him even a little bit more. What we didn’t have is strong drives, second shots, players attacking the basket after movement. And when you rely on jump shots it can be a very inconsistent feeling.”

On the bench:

“We’re better when our bench plays well. We’re a team that really depends on everybody who enters the game contributing. We don’t have an iron five. I’ve said it from the onset, there’s not as big of a difference in ability between players six and seven, eight then maybe three, four and five. We can make that to our advantage. Whether you start the game or you sub in, we just need players in our team to do things that, that we’re good at and to contribute. Scoring doesn’t necessarily have to be the reason that we win or lose because of our bench. And our bench doesn’t have to produce 25 points. What we need is guys that come in the game and help us.”

On the poor first halves against Utah Valley and Alabama:

“From the 16-minute mark of the first half to like the 10-minute mark, eight-minute market of first half, we’ve just been destroyed the last two games. I mean, the point discrepancy is plus 20-some, maybe more. We’ve dug ourselves a hole, I believe, of minus-21 points in both first halves. Against Utah Valley we were down 12. Against Alabama, we rallied to be down nine. If you look at the second halves the opposite was true. Sometimes that happens, it’s just maybe a two-game shot, but we’re well aware of being outscored in the first half and who’s in the game when that happens is the only concern. Kind of looking at that combination of maybe not subbing as much, subbing earlier in. That stretch has hurt us, for sure.”

On why this is happening:

“We’re looking at combinations that we have in the game at that time. We just have not played well in those segments recently. We tend to sub like a wholesale sub at that time, two, three guys. I don’t know if we’ve subbed four, maybe we have, but sometimes not doing that at that point could be part of the solution and we’re working at that for sure. We’ve been great at the beginning of the game. The first four minutes, really, in all 10 games. I don’t have it in front of me, but we’re a good starting team. We’ve been a good starting team on the road. We’ve been a good starting team at home. Same thing at the beginning of second halves in each of the last two games. It’s a big reason why we got a back into a hard-fought game because the first four minutes of the second half at Alabama and against Utah Valley really favored us. That starting group in the first four-minute segments of both halves have been good. I would even say in throughout the year it’s that 16- to 12-minute mark that we got our eye on.”

On what to expect from Baylor:

“Baylor hasn’t had their total cast of players. They’ve welcomed back(guard) Mario Kegler, who’s a terrific transfer from Mississippi State. We’re aware of him but he’s just starting out. (Yale transfer guard) Mason, as well, who’s a very good player. They have not played a game since Dec. 1, so I’m sure they’re healthy and putting things together. They’re a lot like Alabama, they have a number of starters and reserves that are talented players. They play in a great conference, they’re used to playing in big games. I’m sure this is one of the marquee nonconference games on their schedule. They’re an elite shot-blocking team, an athletic team.”

On Baylor’s defense, which allows 65.8 PPG and 38.8 percent shooting:

“They also have a way of blending both zone defense and man. We haven’t faced a lot of zone this year, so we’re obviously preparing for that. They have great length in their zone. They’re one of those zones that you can’t see over them. And they’ve historically done a good job with their zone.”

On the late tipoff on Saturday and how start times can impact performance:

“We’ve played two morning games back-to-back Sundays. There’s some teams that don’t play a morning game all year. We’ve played two of them in a row and we’ve traveled. We’ve been in Maui which, just because of the time change in Maui, those times certainly can be different. You get used to it. I don’t think it means a whole lot to our players. I feel bad for our fans because it makes for a late night. But it’s a home game, it is a Saturday night. It’s not a weekday. And hopefully we’re going to have McKale with our best crowd of our early season.”