The Arizona Wildcats held their weekly media availability Monday and the main theme surrounded the team’s defense — or lack thereof.
Sean Miller said this team might be the worst defensive team he’s ever coached, and you can read our full story about that here.
Here are some other notes and quotes from the presser.
Miller said Rawle Alkins did not have any soreness in his surgically-repaired right foot after starting and playing 31 minutes in the 78-75 loss at Washington on Saturday.
That was the good news. The bad news is Alkins shot just 2-of-12 from the field and “wasn’t himself,” Miller said.
“It’s difficult when you miss practices, when you shut down and then you’re back, you have a minute-restriction,” Miller said. “You look back and say he missed 11 weeks before he did anything. In fairness, we’re really hoping he can hit his stride down the home stretch but we’re playing through that.
“He hasn’t had any soreness from this past game which is a great sign. But I think we’re all looking forward to the day when he can be a part of what we do and it certainly has to be frustrating for him with all that he’s gone through with his foot.”
Alkins has only played in 12 of 24 games this season because of a broken foot he suffered back in September.
Deandre Ayton had four fouls against the Huskies, two of which were of the offensive variety. One was called while Ayton was soaring for an offensive rebound, while another was a charge.
Ayton has been racking up some ticky-tack fouls lately, so Miller was asked if the 7-footer is officiated differently than other post players because of his unusual size and strength, and if that could be an issue in the NCAA Tournament, but he said:
“I really don’t. I’m certainly not worried about (the tournament). That takes care of itself. But Deandre isn’t somebody who shows up in the Pac-12 every year. And if you’re playing against him and our team, anytime you can flop or anytime you can draw an offensive foul, it’s to your advantage.
“It’s not only a personal foul on him, but it’s also a turnover. Sometimes you have players on a quest to do what their coach is asking.”
Miller said some players have the savvy to draw offensive fouls, but also said some officials have the savvy to know when there’s a flop.
“The guys that have been through it understand the game within the game,” he said. “That look, you have a guy who’s 7-foot-1, 260 pounds. He has to have freedom of movement and be able to turn and if I were playing against him, I would probably trying to trick me and flop, potentially create an offensive foul situation. And I think the experienced and really good officials see through that.
“But the ones that aren’t as experienced or see through that, they fall for it. It’s like that red-light green-light deal. You come through that intersection and sometimes you see that red (light) and you stop. Once in a while you have that guy that doesn’t pay attention and (whoop noise) he comes through it. Officials on that call can change the game, and I think that’s what all coaches hope doesn’t happen.
“… And by the way, if it is a charge it should be called.”
When asked what he thought of the Washington game, UA point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright said the Huskies got Arizona out of sorts at the start of the game, then simply made more plays at the end.
“We were in the game. We were right there to win,” he said. “We’ve had some of those games lately at home and that night the ball didn’t bounce our way.”
Miller had a different explanation.
“I think that No. 1, Washington was electric. The crowd was amazing. Their team played with a great sense of purpose and energy,” he said. “They came into the game as the No. 1 defensive team in the conference, and that’s hard-earned because the month is February. I think those numbers are true, and they do it in such a unique way that I think whoever plays them, it takes a little bit of time to get adjusted to the way they play their zone and the aggressiveness of it, the way they play the perimeter and we were no different.
“But the first eight to 10 minutes of that game, they set the tone by being ferocious, ready, and I thought they were the quicker team. They beat us to a number of second shots, loose balls, and the tone is set a lot of times at this time of year. If you’re soft, this isn’t the place, this isn’t the time of year to take the court. I thought our team, for the most part, played with some really good energy themselves and togetherness, but you gotta be ready at the beginning. If you dig yourself into a hole and always play from behind, that in it of itself takes away from our energy and keeps the crowd on an away court electric. I thought the start of our game set the tone for a lot of ways.”
Jackson-Cartwright thought he could have done a better job setting the tone. The Wildcats trailed 26-18 through the first 12 minutes.
Jackson-Cartwright had five points and three assists in the second half after going scoreless in the first half (with two assists to two turnovers).
“I was more assertive in the second half,” he said. “… I think if I would’ve started the game like that it would’ve helped my team tremendously.”
Jackson-Cartwright also shouldered the blame for some of UA’s defensive struggles.
“I think if I can just lock in on starting the game on that defensive pressure, kinda using that as an advantage it will trickle down on my teammates and we’ll be that much better,” he said.
Miller said UA’s defensive effort “starts with the oldest players” like PJC, but that “it’s not exclusive to them.”
“There’s no finger-pointing,” he said.
Arizona ranks 106th on offense now, but Jackson-Cartwright says UA’s “foundation is fine.”
“I think if we give a little more on that side of the ball and take more pride, we’ll be that much better,” he said. “It’s a process. We just got to watch our mistakes on film and see where we can improve.”
Miller believes Washington, now just 1.5 games behind Arizona, can win the Pac-12 because of its defense which ranks No. 1 in the conference.
“They’re the one team right now that can win in spite of their offense,” he said. “If their offense is clicking, which it was the other night, then they’re certainly able to beat anybody.”
Arizona can’t say the same. Bruce Pascoe of the Arizona Daily had a good writeup on how the Wildcats basically can’t win if they aren’t hitting 3s.
“The way we lose is very consistent,” Miller said. “We’ve talked about our defense, this is also simultaneously with our defense, I think this is the best offensive team that I’ve had as a head coach. The numbers reflect that. We’ve had a lot of great moments offensively. We’ve had some moments here at McKale that allowed us to get to the winner’s circle, but really the same thing happened in a number of our home games that happened at UW.
“And that is, we matched points, we had a hard time getting stops, we fouled near the end. But we ended up getting two more, five more, three points than the opponent. You start playing those possession games constantly, once in a while that ball won’t bounce your way. And it didn’t.”
Previewing the upcoming homestand against UCLA and USC, Miller said both teams’ talent level is “off the charts.”
“Both teams can score as well as, in my mind, any team in the country, especially UCLA,” he said. “If you look at their skill level, the way they play offense, who is on their team. They played at a fast pace, they’re very skilled, they know what they’re doing and they can pick on weak defenders.
“And for us, UCLA certainly could come in here and have a big scoring night, based on who our team is defensively.”
UCLA has the No. 1 offense in the conference, while USC’s is No. 3. Miller said both could score 100 points this week against UA’s struggling defense.
He called UCLA freshmen Jaylen Hands and Kris Wilkes “terrific” and praised the skill level of senior center Thomas Welsh.
He also thinks USC senior point guard Jordan McLaughlin is as good as any lead guard in the country.
“USC and UCLA are tournament teams,” Miller said. “They’re teams that are led by, in my mind, a number of NBA players and it’s an exciting challenge.
He added: “I think you have three teams that will go against each other this week that are all talented, that are playing for bigger things. And if you’re a fan of Arizona basketball and you have these tickets, you’re going to see two fantastic games this week at McKale Center and our crowd will be alive and ready. My hope is that our team will match that.”
Miller apparently said on his radio show that he wants to add three more recruits to Arizona’s 2018 class.
As of now, it only has two — Brandon Williams and Shareef O’Neal.
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire