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What Sean Miller said after Arizona’s loss to Stanford to open Pac-12 play

arizona-wildcats-sean-miller-stanford-cardinal-postgame-interview-zoom-pac12-basketball-2020 Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats suffered their first loss of the season on Saturday night, falling 78-75 to the Stanford Cardinal to open Pac-12 play.

It was Arizona’s first loss to Stanford since 2009, ending a streak of 20 consecutive victories in the series.

Our game recap can be found here, while below are coach Sean Miller’s postgame comments.

Sean Miller post Stanford

Hear what Sean Miller had to say about Arizona's loss to Stanford, the defensive struggles and all those offensive fouls

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Saturday, December 19, 2020

On Arizona’s defense: “Throughout the game our defense was not good enough to win. There were a number of breakdowns we had. Sometimes you have to give the other team credit. They picked on a couple matchups that I’m sure that they really favored in our man to man. I’m glad we went zone, I thought it gave us energy, kind of changed the complexion of the game, but we had a really hard time defending them. Defensively, we just had no answer. We got out schemed. When we went small, they hurt us with second shots, early in the game they beat us with drives, da Silva was a hard matchup all night. In a way, if we win tonight’s game, we outscore Stanford in a shootout, which coming into the game I never would have predicted.”

On Arizona’s offense: “You look at the numbers. We’re on the road with a young group, a lot of new faces. Clearly this is the toughest opponent that we’ve played this year. I mean for the game we had 26 field goals, we shot 48 percent. We were 11 for 23 from the 3-point line, which is lights out, excellent. Unfortunately, we went 12 for 23 from the line. If you look at 12 for 23 from the line and 17 turnovers, I mean if we would have done a better job making free throws, and maybe, I’ll get to the turnovers here in a second, if you get 80 on the road at Stanford ... Stanford is a very, very good defensive team. They were one of the best in the country a year ago. Ditto this year, they have a lot of experience, they play hard with great effort. For us to have the offensive performance that we did, and then you kind of put an asterisk next to it because 12 for 23 from the line and 17 turnovers. We were very close to scoring 80 points in this game. The way our team is we’re not going to go 11 for 23 from the 3-point line. I do think it’s a good sign that we were able to play on offense like we did tonight. Again, if you take into consideration what I said about 12 for 23 from the line, we really had a very good performance against an excellent team.”

On James Akinjo going 2 for 9 from the line: “James, as you guys know, is a very good free throw shooter, he just he just broke the school record with 14 for 14. He didn’t have his usual night from the line and neither did our team. He’s a very good free throw shooter. It’s just ironic because he just broke the school record, 14 for 14. And tonight he didn’t have his night. In no way am I blaming tonight’s game on James. I mean, James is our heart and soul, he’s the engine that really makes us go. He had some turnovers, but he also had nine assists, played the entire game. I thought the last drive, that’s what you want, you want a hard drive at the basket with the help defender coming over. In a lot of times you go the line to win or lose it. But he’ll bounce back, no doubt, I’m sure he was in his own head. You would think anyone who would have had great confidence from the line tonight, it would have been him, based on what he just did in the last game.”

On the first road trip: “Anytime that you leave home for the first time, fans or no fans, and really just we’re in such a unique time period. Stanford has played a very good schedule, they were in the Maui Invitational, they got three games away from home, really five away from home. And they’re still kind of away from home. On the road, we have an opportunity to win, which we did. A strong drive by James. Obviously they drew a charge on that one. And we ended up losing on really kind of the last play and a half. That’s Stanford’s credit, they draw the charge as well as any team on our schedule, and we have to adjust. In some ways, we have to do a better job defensively ourselves. We really struggled to defend them. To win on the road, for us to win tonight’s game, we would have had to be an overall better defensive team. When you have as many young guys, new players as we have, I hate to make even a single excuse. But it’s just, we’re not going to be as far along as we want to be right now, I do think, two weeks, four weeks, six weeks (from now), we can improve on some things we really broke down (on) tonight. That’s up to us as a coaching staff, but I thought our guys played (with) a lot of heart, a lot of energy.”

On Stanford: “I want to credit Stanford, I mean they have a good team now. Oscar de Silva, he is a complete player and he brings great experience to the game. There aren’t many players that I believe mean more to their team than Oscar’s overall ability and character, playing both ends. He’s a great free throw shooter, he’s a clever passer, he’s a tough matchup. I have great respect for Stanford, this year’s team. I thought Ziaire Williams played a good game. He shoots the ball, he had 16 points, that really hurt us. When you let him get 16, Da Silva is a major problem for all of us, and you just hope that that you can do a good job on everybody else. Their offense was outstanding. We could not guard them. When we play them again, we’re gonna have to be more ready with a different, I don’t want to say a different approach, we just have to be better on defense in our halfcourt to beat them.”

On the 20-game win streak over Stanford coming to an end: “We’ve been in so many games like this, and it just bounced our way. We lost and they beat us, they did a great job I. I thought their energy at the beginning of the game, first 8-10 minutes they were hungry. They came out of the gates, they took us out of our offense. In the first half it was like we had a hard time running offense. We had errors on our play calls, our ball didn’t move well.”

On handling all that comes with traveling in the COVID era: “We handled it excellent. I can’t tell you how proud I am of the group that we have. If you guys were around us the last four months, just to watch them getting up so early in the morning, doing all their schoolwork like they have, in a much different situation. Following the COVID protocol as best they can, practicing incredibly hard. Strength and conditioning early in the morning, preparing for a game like this one and the ones we’ve had. We’re organized. We’re efficient. We have two buses, we wear certain mask, it’s not easy on these players, it really isn’t. I just can’t say enough good things about what they’re doing. As the coach, you have to separate how you feel about all that and then say, ‘okay, how did we actually do in tonight’s game?’ There are a lot of positives.”

On Jemarl Baker Jr.: “Offensively he was a monster. He played a great game, and he’s off to a great start. If you think about the first six games he’s played, he’s already been the Pac-12 Player of the Week once. Tonight in the second half I thought he was really, really good. And, like everybody, there’s certain things maybe defensively he could do better, but if it wasn’t for his offense, we wouldn’t have had a chance to be in the game tonight.”

On defending Oscar da Silva: “It’s really not just our big guys, it’s our team, it’s me. It’s our staff. I mean, obviously we’re working really hard in practice, I feel like we have a good way, a good plan, but we didn’t really have an answer throughout the game for a number of things that Stanford did offensively. I go back to Oscar Da Silva. He’s such a hard matchup when he’s playing the five. And then when they play him at the four, he’s just a mismatch if you switch, he’s just clever, he’s smart, he’s experienced. He was really, really good last year, he’s even better this year. I think his statistics have to be some of the best in the nation. I think he’s one of the top 10 players on KenPom in terms of efficiency. That’s all you need to know. He didn’t just hurt Arizona, he’s hurt every team that he’s played, and he was great tonight. He’s a big part of their attack. I thought they had a great attack against our defense, we needed to do a better job.”

On playing zone: “I do think our zone, the timing of our zone. What we did in when we went zone, it energized us. And then is oftentimes the case, we gave up back-to-back 3-point shots as well. We work on it almost every day. A year ago if you really watch this we sprinkled it inprobably more than I have as the coach here in Arizona. And I think we will utilize it in a similar fashion this year. You have to be good at it though, you know. It’s like it sparked us but it also gave up back-to-back threes. I think it’s a great changeup, it’s like a curveball to our man-to-man. But we had a breakdown in that as well. I do think that we have to be smart and maybe sprinkling that in, mixing it in. A lot of times it will help take the rhythm away of the offense against our man-to-man defense, because we just can’t go toe to toe for 40 minutes with our personnel, with the experience of our team this year. In the past, when you have guys that have been through several seasons, sometimes a team can go on a scoring run, but you settle in, you fix it, you end up really having a great defensive performance. I didn’t sense that tonight. I thought going to the zone was the right move. It’s something we have to certainly keep our eye on for sure terms of mixing it in. I know I’m repeating myself, we were not a good enough defensive team tonight to win the game. When you put up the offensive numbers that we put up, including our free throw shooting, we had enough points to win, especially on the road.”

On finding positives in a loss: “I don’t leave this game rattled. I knew coming here, road test, first time away from McKale. I know the schedule that we’ve played, which includes losing a game in the middle of this past week, which certainly doesn’t help your rhythm, of what you’re doing. But it’s the first time for everything for us, even as I looked at Ben (Mathurin) and Dalen (Terry), they’re gonna be better. They’ll be better on Monday and Tuesday, they’ll be better than next time we have a chance to play in the Pac-12. You have to get games under your belt to learn, grow and improve. Now when you talk about being in the right place, physicality, setting screens, just being able to kind of handle pressure. It’s one thing to describe it, now that they’ve gone through it, they’ll be better. We have a young group. Upside is on our side. Obviously you play every game to win and tonight we put ourselves in a position to do so, but we just could never get up over that hump. And then when we were right there, the call, the play, it didn’t go our way.”

On playing Monday and Tuesday before Christmas break: “I’m excited about playing the games, hopefully we’ll be able to play both games. We have to watch our guys, they’ve been through a lot. They just finished the first semester, they haven’t been home, they haven’t seen their families at games. It’s hard on these guys, it really, really is. I want to make sure that I’m clear on that, my heart goes out to our players, this is not easy to just power through. But I also know that our guys love to play the game. This is their reward. And although we didn’t win tonight. I think we’re excited about a number of things that we did well. We have to build on it. We have a lot of first-timers and we’ll grow.”

On offensive fouls: “The other thing Stanford does against every opponent, not just us, is they really draw the charge. Tonight, I don’t know how many offensive fouls we had, but, I promise you this, that you’ll never see an Arizona team draw more charges moving forward than ours. I promise you that. The way it’s being called, we have to adjust, I have to adjust. We have to get into position and take the charge on and off the ball. We have to force the action so that we can get a few of those plays. If it’s one-sided and we have seven to 10 offensive fouls in a game, and we’re not doing that to our opponent, it heavily favors the other team. We have to do a better job of adjusting, drawing the charge, making these hard plays on the ball and putting us in a position to get an offensive foul. If it goes back and forth it evens out. Even in the five games before tonight it’s not been to our advantage, we’re addressing it with our team. I don’t how many offensive fouls we had, I think we had at least five in the second half.

“We’re six games in. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many offensive fouls called. One time we were dribbling from one side of the court to the other sideline, like a cross, and they drew a charge on us dribbling sideways. It’s absolutely crazy. We’re gonna take some charges here. I’m excited about that. We have to draw charges. We have to cross body block, we have to go vertical in the charge arc, like the NBA does. We have to leave the corner and get there late, there’s so many things that I think we have to do a better job of to make our defense better. You have to make those hard plays on the ball, on a handoff, on a dribble handoff, we teach our guys on a dribble handoff to kind of go under, like show trail and go under. We have to go through the guy’s arm, because we’re getting fouls om our handoffs, because we dribble handoff and extend the arm, they’re kind of coming through to take it away. We’ve gotten a number of offensive fouls, one we got tonight on Christian (Koloko). It’s not up to the officials to adjust, it’s up to the coach, the staff and the players. The offensive fouls have really hurt us, so we have to look at that, but we also have to draw offensive fouls on the other team, we have to take charges. I don’t know if we’ve taken more than maybe a handful of charges in six games, and right now you have to attempt to take anywhere between five and 10 a game. It makes no sense not to do that based on getting in legal guarding position in drawing the foul. I’m not trying to be funny. It’s what it is. Our defense has to improve and that’s one way we have to get back at it.”