The Arizona Wildcats improved to 2-0 on Sunday night with a 90-69 win over Illinois, a game they led by only one point at halftime.
Below is what Sean Miller talked about.
On the the challenge of facing a Big Ten team: “Tonight was a great performance for our team and really for our program. Anytime you play against the Big Ten conference, we have a lot of respect for the teams, the players, the coaches. A year ago, they may have had the overall toughest conference in the history of college basketball, top to bottom. So when you play a team that’s from that conference, and especially the returners that Illinois had, that’s been through a Big Ten season … we have great respect for them. Brad (Underwood) is really a tremendous coach as well. But our team was ready.”
On how he felt his team played: “We have a good group. We played together, played (with) great effort. We have a lot of talent on offense, not just guys that can just score around the rim but playmakers, three-point shooters, guys who come in off the bench that are able to do it. And you feel that when we get out in transition and move the ball, a lot of good things happen.
“Sixteen turnovers is too many. I would say that a few of them just happened because it’s only the second time we’ve played this year. So, got to get used to being out there. But we negated that by having 14 steals. I’m sure Illinois is disappointed with their 22 turnovers. I think some of our players did a really good job and created those turnovers as well.
“But we have two big games this week and it’ll be a test to see how we can bounce back from a good performance against Illinois, how our team’s chemistry is and (if) we can keep growing and getting better.”
On the play of freshmen Josh Green, Nico Mannion and Zeke Nnaji, who combined for 62 points: “Our three freshmen, Zeke Nnaji, Josh Green and Nico Mannion, were just spectacular tonight in their second game. Each of them were really, really good. Zeke was quiet, but when you go 9 for 12 from the floor, that means something. A lot of (his baskets) came from Nico. Nico had nine assists and 23 points. Josh, not only does he do it on offense, he also does it on defense.”
On the rest of the team fared: “The other guys all contributed as well. As we keep moving forward, it’s important that we just continue to improve, I think create roles for guys, which isn’t easy when you’re playing 10, or nine like we’re playing. Christian Koloko didn’t get in, and it really bothers me because he’s a very good player. And he’s very good every day. But like I told him, you know, don’t be surprised if you keep watching us that he doesn’t worked his way into having a role and help us win a really big game. And that’s that’s really I think where the starting point is this year with us, is that we do have depth and its quality depth, and we have to use that to our advantage.”
On why the freshmen have done so well right away: “They all come from winning backgrounds and that’s the one thing that really stands out. If you look at those guys, Christian as well, four freshmen, all of them won state championships last year. In Josh’s case, he won the Geico ‘mythical’ national championship for high school basketball. So they’ve been on teams, (they were) not just good players, and they’ve been held to the standard of winning, you really feel that. They’re good teammates, and they’re good every day in practice, they really work at it, you’re able to coach them and I think that says a lot about their character, and it really says a lot about our team as well.”
On if this is his best freshman class, and why: “It’s certainly one of the best if not the best. I think that they come ready to play. They played for very good coaches. They’ve been coached before they got here. Practice means something, I know that sounds like what you’re supposed to say as the college coach, but they have good habits. And I think, like I mentioned, when you come from a winning environment, you know how important it is to do certain things and I think the competitiveness, the character of those guys, in addition to their ability, may set them apart for sure.”
On Josh Green: “He played with a lot of confidence. His three-point shooting has really improved, I would say. Looking at him when he first came here in June, because he missed a lot of time with his shoulder, it’s just (that) he’s really worked hard, and when you work hard, good things happen. But he’s a fluid shooter. I mean, you see him shoot the ball. He looks like it’s going to go in, and he played (with) a lot of confidence tonight for sure. But one thing about Josh on defense, and he did it again tonight, he can really defend the ball, can defend off the ball. He can defend a lot of different types of players. He reminds me kind of Nick Johnson. When Nick was at his best defensively you felt him. So I think Josh can have that same type of role on this year’s team.”
On the faster pace: “We want to push the ball. That’s one way we can use our depth. But one thing that never changes is, playing fast doesn’t mean you’re playing smart. I mean, when you win on the road, you have to be able to get stops, you have to rebound and you have to play smart basketball. If you can do that at a faster pace, especially when you have a deep team, awesome. But that’s the one thing that I think we’re learning. But as you can see, I think we have pretty good starting point. We’re better when we’re pushing it. And in particular with Nico. I’ve really been on him to push it. And I thought tonight he did a great job.
“But it’s not just one player. When you’re in transition, when it really is good basketball, you have a number of different players that are threats, and we really have that in transition. And that’s why I think, sharing the ball and taking care of it, that’s the name of the game for us as we play fast.”
On if that pace will continue: “I think this group is capable. I really do. Just remember, though, if you’re just a real average defensive team, and a very good offensive team, then your pace is really up. And the reason is because they score quick against your defense.
“You know, sometimes if you’re a tough-minded, defensive team, you’re solid, no matter how much you want it to just be frenetic it’s going to slow down. That’s okay because on the road and against different styles and late in the year, you’re not going to just be a team that can outscore that other group. You have to do both, and we want to be able to win different ways. How about if we run into a situation where we don’t shoot the ball well on a certain night? You want to still be able to win, especially away from home. So all of that’s taken with a grain of salt. When you have depth like we do and some skill level like we do, I think it is better when we’re able to get up and down.”
On the defense: “We might have been better when they shot 38 percent in the second half. They hit us with three straight threes in a row, in the first four minutes. But yet they made five for the game. So I think our overall three-point defense was better. But we fouled a little bit more in the second half. I would say if I judge our defense in the game of 40 minutes we were just, you know, it ebbed and flowed. We had our good moments and we didn’t. Offensively, we were much more efficient. If we took a few turnovers away we would have (had) a really big night because we had some head scratchers there at times.”