It was back to big margins for the Arizona Wildcats on Sunday night after a narrow victory three days earlier. The 104-67 win over Long Beach State moved Arizona to 6-0 for the first time since 2014-15.
And with that less stressful result came a far less frustrated coach Sean Miller during his postgame press conference, unlike on Thursday after the South Dakota State game when he began his presser with a long rant.
The full recap of Sunday’s win can be found here. Below are the key topics Miller discussed with reporters.
On if his players learned from their poor outing against South Dakota State: “I think so. And I also think that’s why we had a couple head scratching moments in the first half. I felt like we were tight. They wanted to do the things that we talked about. Maybe a couple guys (were) forcing the ball inside, maybe not playing with as much confidence. And like I mentioned, after the last game, if we have an early opportunity, we want to take it. We just want to make sure that it’s a good early opportunity. We don’t want to just all of a sudden forget what makes us a good team, who has the hot hand, just in an attempt to shoot quick.”
On the slow start: “A couple things in the first half weren’t as good. Just a little bit like South Dakota State, but we have a lot of new players learning to play in a system, and it takes time. Although we got going into second half, it was off the defensive stops, the ball was really being shared.”
On sharing the ball: “I thought we had an excellent second half reflective of 26 assists in the game. Any time you get that high of an assist total, a lot of good things are happening. I’d really like to point out Nico and Jemarl, the two players who played point guard for us tonight, made 15 assists and two turnovers. I really believe, just watching Nico, he’s slowly and steadily settling in and learning how to be a college player. Sometimes you forget, it’s still November, still very early in our team’s development, but especially with with the younger guys, and he was really outstanding. Maybe the best game he’s played thus far for us.”
On Jemarl Baker Jr.’s play at the point: “He’s done a really good job. His assist-to-turnover ratio is just off the charts. Matter of fact, he had a turnover tonight and it was just crazy. I looked out there thinking I think that’s only his second turnover of the season. It’s hard to get mad at a guy who’s taking care of the ball as well as he has, and that’s one of Jemarl’s strengths as a player.”
On Zeke Nnaji: “Zeke just got off (to) maybe a slower start for him, but (still went) 9 for 13 from the field. I don’t think he took bad shots. He was around the rim, there was contact and he just missed. And you’re just not used to him missing. But he settled in. Obviously nine for 13 is a pretty good night. One of the things with Zeke, all these guys can do certain things better. I think we expect him to rebound the ball a little bit more, both (on) defense and offense. He’s been much better on the offensive side rebounding than he has been on defense. And I think that’s something we have to look at. He has to adjust to the college physicality, block out a little bit better.”
On Josh Green: “I talked to Josh after the game, and what makes him a special player isn’t doing one thing. It’s that he can check the box in a myriad of different ways. Steals, four assists, no turnovers, some of our best plays we had in transition and he has the ball in his hands. I have no concerns at all with the shooting. He takes good shots, they’ll go in.”
On Max Hazzard: “I was really happy for Max Hazzard more than anyone. He just didn’t look right in the first half. I don’t want to say he lost confidence as much as I think he just, he wanted to play well so badly that it can work against you. I pulled him aside going into the locker room and just told him, ‘look, shoot the ball, play with confidence, be who you are.’ And I’m not saying that’s why it happened, but I hope that’s why it happened. He’s among the best shooters that I have seen. And you saw him get going in the second half, which he has that punch element. He really can give us that scoring lift off the bench. So we’ll take it.”
On what makes this team different from others: “We have more firepower from behind the 3-point line. We have a number of different players who can really shoot it. And I think it’s that balance that might give us the edge and some other things. But like some of the other teams that we’ve had, it’s hard to judge us in November, we have a long way to go. We’ll learn a lot more about our team when we leave McKale. This next week will be a really good challenge for us. And I think for us our team’s chemistry, our work ethic, us staying healthy and getting better. That’s really the thing that we’re I think the most happy about, the most aware of, and there’s just so many different things that we can can improve on and it’s up to us to be able to do it.”
On the Wooden Legacy: “First of all, playing three games in four days is a challenge. It’ll be a different feeling for our younger guys, no matter how much you think you’re ready for it. It’s different. Playing away from McKale for the first time is different. Although, I think for us, we expect a lot of our fans to be there, which will be helpful. And then the competition will continue to increase, so we’re aware of that. But we’ve practiced more than 30 times, we’ve played six home games, had a scrimmage, and I think all of us are ready for that next step.
On what can be gained from the holiday tournament: “We have to play well when we go there. Last time we went to this tournament, we struggled in our first game, lost a heartbreaker in game two, and I think we ended up being 2-1. It was a great learning experience but we didn’t necessarily play well. For us, it’s been a few years since we’ve won a championship on these tournaments. We know this is a really good field, a lot of good coaches, good teams. It’s up to us to go there and hopefully play our tails off, three games in four days and see where it takes us.”
On how the team plans to replace Devonaire Doutrive’s contributions: “I think everybody’s going to get a little bit more of an opportunity. We still have five guards we’re rotating for three spots. And Stone Gettings is more than capable of playing some spot minutes at small forward, especially against certain teams.”
On if Doutrive’s dismissal helps with sorting out the rotation: “It’s hard to sub in and out of games. Depth sounds good on the front end, but everybody has to sacrifice a little bit, playing nine or 10 players. I think in some ways, that’s what happened tonight. You can really hit your stride maybe in the second half of games and at times wear a team, you can play through foul trouble. I think we have a deep team and we just have to continue to grow.”
On subbing in waves: “Each game is different. I think the score dictates that, who’s playing well, who isn’t it. Foul trouble. For us, we can let guys play a little longer with foul trouble. I don’t know if that makes sense, but the penalty for getting a guy with three or four isn’t maybe as dire as it is if you only six players.”