The Arizona Wildcats dropped their second game in the last three, falling 84-80 at home to Gonzaga on Saturday night. It was a rough outing on offense and an even rougher one defensively, though the Wildcats somehow fought back to have a shot late.
Our full recap of the game can be found here.
Below are coach Sean Miller’s thoughts as Arizona dropped to 10-2 on the season.
On the game overall: “I really felt like the way we started the game, we had the great atmosphere, and a really good start to the game on our end, we really came out playing well. But we lost to a better team that us at this moment. We really fought hard to the end. We didn’t give in, it would have been easy frustration to say hey, not tonight, but we really rally and get the game down (to) a couple of possessions there, which is a real testament to our group. I love the fact that fought hard to the end.”
On Nico Mannion: “We didn’t have a good shooting night. It’s not Nico’s fault and he had a tough night, but he’s gonna have a lot of great nights. We just didn’t shoot the ball like we’re capable, maybe some of it was, we need to execute better, but we also had a couple good ones. And when you get good looks in a big game like they did you gotta knock them in, and when you don’t do that, you have to win another way. It puts pressure on the defense and we weren’t able to defend them at an astronomical level to offset our shooting.
“He’s healthy. He definitely had an off night. I know this just because I watched closely, he had a lot of shots that he’s gonna make, that he’s already made, but didn’t go down tonight. For a young guy, he shouldn’t shoulder the blame of this loss. We missed so many other plays and players, 40 minutes, that it wasn’t just him. Clearly you want him to have a good night in a game like this, and he’s going to have plenty. Tonight wasn’t necessarily his best night of shooting. However, he did have 10 assists. That’s back-to-back games. He had 11 against Omaha in 21 minutes. Nico’s on the right track. No one feels worse, I’m sure, than him, but there’s a lot of other guys, a lot of other things we could have done better. There’s a lot of things that I could have done better.”
On if Mannion is struggling with his confidence right now: “No, I don’t really think so. He believes in himself. I go on practice and he’s been shooting the ball well. He’s really practiced well this week, Monday, Tuesday, thought he played great against Omaha, did a good job on Thursday, Friday, today and you know what, sometimes it’s as much as we all want them to go in, they didn’t. But like I said, it’s very important for me to say this, this loss doesn’t fall on him and his shooting. It’s one of a number of things that we could have done better.
“I will tell you though, usually if our team turns the ball over six times, we win. And if we have one more rebound than the other team or more, we usually win. And we did both of those tonight. It’s just kind an outlier game in that our shooting hurt us and, man, you’re playing against a real team. I know Gonzaga has been great recently, but I really think they have all the makings of an excellent team again this year, obviously.”
On Zeke Nnaji: “Zeke Nnaji, he was spectacular. I mean, you’ve got to realize how hard it is to have 17 rebounds and 16 points in this game. He had eight second shots. We talked to him a little bit last couple weeks, he wasn’t playing with that reckless abandon or fire. Well, he returned back to form tonight. I think that’s a really good sign for our team. I have to do a better job getting him better opportunities on offense. Off of rolls in the middle of the lane, not just in the post. If you look at his 10 shots, he probably got four or five by himself on his second shots. That’s not enough. And that’s that’s my responsibility.”
On rebounding: “For most of the game we rebounded well, halftime we were up, but gotta be able to do it for the whole game. They got some key second shots in the second half. When you give them more than one shot, they usually beat you. I thought some of those possessions where they got two shots hurt us, for sure.”
On Arizona playing till the final whistle: “I want to credit our guys. I thought we fought to the very, very end. That’s easier to talk about than to do, especially in a game like that because it was disappointing. And we really fought, and you look at the box score looks like an even game. But they were a 10, 15-point better team than us tonight for sure.”
On what needs to be improved moving forward: “We have to be more specific on offense. The ball can move and we can share it and we can be balanced, but it has to be, ‘the ball’s going to him in this area until further notice.’ That’s really important. One thing about offense in basketball, the more games you play, you recognize there’s some guys who are better than others. There’s some guys who shoot a higher percentage than others. Sometimes you live and die by the 3. We don’t need to do that right now. For us, we can drive the ball, we can get the ball to the low post and I look at Zeke, he had eight second shots, he took 10 shots. I’m gonna say only five or six of his field goal attempts came on its own doing.
“Now, Gonzaga is post trapping so you have to take that into consideration. It’s not that Zeke didn’t get it. But we have to be better at getting in the ball where they can’t trap him and that’s one of many regrets that I have about tonight. When we really needed to be able to do that we couldn’t do it and that hurt us.
“But Zeke, I mean, look when you’re a freshman and you’re playing in a game of that magnitude against those guys, and you have 16 points and 17 rebounds, that’s one heck of a performance. I know we lost, but I want to make sure I point that out among the many things we could have done better, I thought he was just a monster out there.”
On Ryan Woolridge’s defense on Mannion: “Yeah, so again, giving Gonzaga credit, he is a different type of point guard for them. But you’re right, he’s older, he’s physical. His shot block at the end of the first half was a really big play. He blocked Josh Green’s shot at the rim and he’s a point guard. They got they got a second shot on a free throw and he was the one finished it. He’s different, he’s unique and their coaching staff really has him playing a role that plays to his strengths. I know he’s a hard-playing guy on defense and I’m sure they gave him a lot of credit on Nico and deservedly so. But I also think Nico probably had a couple, like I think about some of those shots at the rim, he got downhill a couple times and didn’t finish.”
On what can be gained from a loss like this: “Number one, you want to win the game. We’re disappointed. But even in a win or a loss, you have to take it for what it is. In our team’s case, with kind of what we’ve gone through, we just have a lot of new things. A lot of new people. It’s a big game. It’s this group playing in that big game. I think of a guy like (Corey) Kispert, this isn’t the only big game he’s been. We have a group of guys, eight new faces, seven that play. We’ve got to get Stone back, but even Stone is new. I think we have a high ceiling, I really believe that.
“Where our team could end up and where we are today can be a much, much higher place just because we have a lot of things that we can grow and get better at. It’s up to us to get there, though. It doesn’t mean just because we have a high ceiling means we’re going to become that team. We learn things and we learned a lot when we play Baylor, we learned a lot tonight. And I credit Gonzaga. I have the utmost respect for their coach and his staff. They’re fantastic at what they do, I mean really are. It kind of makes you feel like you need to be a lot better.”
On what this game means for the rest of the season: “It’s a big game but we didn’t win it. And (now you) move on and see what we can do against St. John’s. If you can go 11-2 with the schedule we played, the team we got, there’s a lot of good that happened. And then we’ll flip the script and go home for Christmas. But again, when things like this happen, if you’re good at what you do, and you’re in it for the right, long haul, you’re going to learn, you’re going to improve, you’re going to grow. And that’s really the challenge for us, to not make this any bigger than what it is. For us, we have one nonconference game left, 12 of them are done. We’re 10 and 2, and we have one task with 10 and we have one task and that is go go 11-2 before we go home for Christmas, to beat St. John’s a week from today. How it all plays out three or four months from now, we’re not there yet.”
On Gonzaga: “You have to give credit to the opponent. Mark Few and his staff, they’re great at what they do. They really are. There’s a reason they’ve had 20-plus years of success. And they just have a great way of playing, a smart way. They do it with skill, they do it with physicality.They go it with a fast pace. And tonight, they didn’t really play how they usually do. They were smaller for longer periods of time. And when they played (Corey) Kispert at the 4, it really changes a lot and forced us to go smaller. We’re just not as advanced or ready with that group as they are. I wish we were. That’s not the only reason that the game went towards Gonzaga. But it is is part of the reason. That lineup right there it just got us out of rhythm. I thought it was a difference in the score to some extent. Then (Admon) Gilder, coming into the game, had not shot the ball well and he hit four big ones, maybe one or two in transition. Hit a couple corner threes. Coming off the bench if he knocks down threes it gives them even additional firepower. I just wish we were better and more equipped to deal with what they do and what they did. Once they started shifting between small and big and we got out of sorts, we gave up passes to the roller and a couple of dunks, which in the first 20 minutes you didn’t see that as much.”
On Killian Tillie’s impact as a stretch 5: “1 for 6 for Tillie from 3 and it felt like he made four, just because he is such a threat and he had a couple great looks, he didn’t make them. But they put him in a position to get those 3s and some of it was they were small and then they put him at the 5. They had a four-minute segment where he put him at the five, they’re team is a really difficult team to defend. When we went small, and they went small, we’re not as prepared. We’re not as far along as we are going to be but as we needed to be tonight, and I’m disappointed in that but they were smart to go to that smaller lineup. I thought that smaller lineup helped them. Maybe I’m giving them too much credit, I don’t think I am.”
On Gonzaga going to a zone: “When you change defenses right now against us we’re inexperienced against that. We just gotta really take our time. If you just stay a little bit longer with it, you can get a good look. We did create a couple good looks against the zone, we just didn’t make them. We’re a difficult team to zone when you think about our personnel, but I don’t blame Gonzaga for trying it because we were shooting so poorly that just mixing that in made a lot of sense. And among many things, it worked.”
On continuing the Arizona-Gonzaga series: “I really would unless we get to the point where we can’t beat them. ... I mean they’re a difficult team to play against, they really are. I think the series is 3-4 right now. They’re good year in, year out, it’s remarkable. The talent they’ve been able to maintain and the team’s chemistry, the way they play, they don’t beat themselves. To beat them, you have to be equal and not beating yourself. And tonight we just we didn’t have enough shots going to have a chance to beat them.”