The Arizona Wildcats relied on free throw shooting and rebounding to stave off the UTEP Miners 69-61 Saturday to improve to 5-0 on the season.
Our recap can be found here, and here’s the video and transcript of UA head coach Sean Miller’s postgame press conference.
On what he learned about his team from the win: “Well, first of all, this was our fourth game in eight days. Everybody is doing things a little bit differently with COVID. UTEP, I watched them play at Saint Mary’s, now they traveled to play here in Tucson. So we’re not the only team that has their stress points. But I think playing four games in eight days, as we approach the end of the semester with so many new faces, started to wear on us a little bit tonight. I thought we did some very good things. Thrilled that we were able to win the game. It’s always great to be able to teach and learn and make adjustments and be able to do that with a win.”
On not making any 3s: “That’s not good. We only shot nine. I think you have to understand that UTEP really tried to stick with our perimeter players. When we got the ball in and around the basket, we had no post crowd, we had no double team. They just let our bigs go one on one with unlimited dribbles against their bigs, and we didn’t really exploit that defense. If a team does that, you’ve got to be able to score a little bit easier, and really I thought the first half was more of a reflection of that than even the second half, because they played more zone. But in the first half, we had five shots, six shots where you talk about right in and around the rim, whether it was a second shot, a jump hook drive, and we didn’t convert. The same thing on our drives. We had some good drives but our drive to pass in some ways was taken away, because they did a good job of kind of staying at home on the perimeter. So what do we get? We got fouled a lot and to our team’s credit, if you go 25 for 28 from the line, you’re going to feel really good about that.”
On having 18 second shots: “18 second shots is awesome, but to my point, if you get 18 second shots, at worst you should have 18 points. You want a point for every second shot. As a matter of fact, I can make the case, more points on 18 second shots. If you look at it, we had 11 second chance points and they had 13. So they had six offensive rebounds and they had 13 points. We had 18 offensive rebounds, and we had 11. So when I talk about us not finishing, that’s the storyline. If we finished jump hooks, finish second shots, I think what you would have found is we would have ended up shooting more threes and making a few because they would have had to adjust. So, getting our big guys better, more comfortable, finishing more, that’s something that I think this game taught us. And 16 turnovers, that’s also not good. We should have had four or five more shots, but 16 turnovers, seven of the 16 came from two freshmen, Azoulas (Tubelis) and Ben (Mathurin), that saw a different type of defense and they struggled in that area. So, I think they’ll improve with experience. That’s why you have to play games.”
On James Akinjo’s performance: “James played a very good game. He had three assists, one turnover and two steals. He got fouled seven times, and he converted 14 for 14. Looking at his shots, he might have taken a couple of tough ones but I think that he almost tried to score the ball for us when we were struggling at times, and he’ll learn from that but his 36 minutes he did a lot of good things, and his shooting numbers will come around.”
On Bennedict Mathurin’s play so far this year: “Ben is really rebounding the ball and was 5 for 7 from the floor. We didn’t play him a lot the second half because his turnovers were really tough turnovers. They were passes to the team in orange, catch it, go the length of the floor and score. Those turnovers against zone defenses, they almost don’t allow you to win so one of the things he has to improve on is his dribbling, his passing, decision making. As he sees different types of defenses, he’ll improve that. Really the same for Azuolas. He’s had some early foul trouble here in his young career so far. Seven of 16 turnovers came from those two guys and they’ll improve, they’ll get better”
On Akinjo’s brand of basketball: “His style is he’s an attacking guard, so he gets fouled, right? He puts pressure on the defense. Obviously we don’t want him to go 2 for 11, he doesn’t want to go 2 for 11, but then when you go 14 for 14 from the line, get fouled seven times, have three assists, one turnover, two steals, he did some really good things on defense. He’s the engine that makes us go and I’m glad we have him.”
On whether Akinjo is taking advantage of how teams are guarding him: “Yeah, he has a knack of getting fouled. I don’t think that will stop. We want him to shoot a higher percentage. Some of it is we have to create that for him. He has to kind of be patient sometimes and not turn down a three point shot. Take it. He’ll do that. It’s been a while since he’s played. He’s only played five games with us. And the more he plays, the more comfortable he’ll get.”
On the significance of getting in four games over eight days: “We’re glad that we’ve had a chance to play. You’re only allowed to have seven non-conference games and we have two left, so we got our fingers crossed and hopeful we will be able to play Cal Baptist on Wednesday and Montana and get all seven in. That would be great. I think every time we play we have a chance to win and certainly improve. We’re a much better team right now than we were a couple weeks ago, and we have a group of guys that are willing to sacrifice and work at it, listen and learn. I don’t have to tell you we have a lot of new faces. And time is on our side in that we have a bigger upside than maybe some teams we’ve had in the past because we just have very little experience together.”
More on the stretch they’re in: “The other part of it you have to understand, getting up early every day, six, seven days a week and getting COVID tested. The remote learning (with) Zoom. We’re in a real pressure point right now. Every one of our players has final exams they’re either taking or getting ready for, final papers that they’re completing or getting ready to complete. They’re finishing up their classes and all students have that pressure on them s we head towards Christmas, but with COVID, four games in eight days, me as their coach, and then getting ready for finals, trust me. We have a day off tomorrow. It will be a good, welcome today off. I’m glad for their health and well being they have that day off, and then we have chance to get right back at it and improve and prepare for Wednesday. I watched Cal Baptist play early in the season against USC and USC is a very good team. Cal Baptist was right there to win the game. I think they lost in overtime so very similar to Eastern Washington, when we played them. Great three point shooting team, a really good coach, and we’re gonna have our hands full. It’s gonna be a real good test for us on Wednesday.”