The Arizona Wildcats dominated buzzer to buzzer to earn a 80-53 victory over Washington Thursday night in the team’s first game since receiving a self-imposed postseason ban. The victory moves Arizona to 8-1 on the season including 2-1 in Pac-12 play.
Our full recap can be found here, and here’s the video and transcript of UA head coach Sean Miller’s postgame press conference.
On the team’s reaction to the self-imposed postseason ban: “Well, our team obviously is disappointed. The NCAA Tournament and playing for a championship postseason is why you come to Arizona. It’s all we talk about and think about. As a player, the two words March Madness are very important. So when that’s not a possibility it’s certainly disheartening. However, we also have a really good group and practice feels the same. Today’s game feels the same. We have a chance to play 17 more Pac 12 games and compete for the best record that we possibly can have. We want to be playing our best so that as we enter the month of March, there was no doubt that we were a tournament team and then we grow and we build from there. I’m not going to act like it’s no big deal because it’s significant. Not just for our players but their families. I’ll stop there. I made the statement, and I support what was done, but that doesn’t mean that it’s an easy thing.”
On Arizona’s overall effort and motivation: “We have a great group of guys. They love the game, number one. They respect Arizona. They respect our program’s history. It’s something that we talk a lot about. They know that they’re representing not only the past but also in some ways a bridge towards a bright future, and a bright future for them as well. I think if there’s ever a test of a young person’s character, it’s when they get hit with some tough news and now they have a choice of how they respond. I think you saw by today’s performance. I saw it immediately by our practices. We’ve got a good group of leadership. We have a great group of kids, supported by some families that really trust us as coaches and our program.”
On how the team would handle the news: “I was very confident, but until you go through it, you never really know. It’s not something that I would recommend or wish that any coach has to do. It’s not an easy day. But, like a lot of things here, we’re doing what we’re supposed to do. We’re doing the best that we can, and we’re attempting to move forward. As it applies to this year’s team though, I don’t think you’ll see much of a difference in our approach to practice, to games. Our guys are highly motivated to be good players. We have a chance to compete for the regular season conference championship. Our players have a chance to advance their careers, to make All-Conference and do a lot of the things that they think about in the offseason. So, those types of things haven’t changed and our approach hasn’t either, but we’re going to enjoy our time together. If there’s ever a team that I’ve been around that is playing for each other, it’s this group right here. I thought we did an outstanding job here in Seattle of being ready for tonight’s game and playing a good game.”
On Arizona’s success in the paint against the Huskies: “The rebound differential was a big factor in how the game felt. We were the bigger, stronger team on the back board and coming into the game that’s always an emphasis against Washington’s zone to try to get those second shots. We were able to do it especially early in the game on a number of possessions that I thought really set the tone and then we were able to do it throughout. One key to our team right now is we have quality depth in the frontcourt. When we start Jordan Brown and Azuolas Tubelis, I think both Jordan and Azuolas are both coming into their own and playing well and playing better, but coming off the bench with Ira Lee and Christian Koloko, now those are four guys we really believe in. Each of them is different from another one. But I think our depth inside, now that we’re nine games in, you’re starting to sense that that’s one of our team’s strengths.”
On the biggest difference between Thursday’s road win and the road loss at Stanford: “Well, one big difference is your first is always different. Especially when you have a group like us that is just so new to each other, we’re not going to be at our best. In our first ever road trip, especially in the way this is set up with COVID and the testing and how it feels, I think all of us need to get a couple of trips under our belt. We’re no different. But we’re a little bit more sure of ourselves right now. I don’t necessarily feel bad about our performance at Stanford. We lost to a top-flight team. We lost in a hard-fought game, had a chance to win at the end and really fought hard in that game so there’s a lot when we look back, even at that first road trip that we feel good about.”
On whether Miller was surprised by Arizona’s post advantage: “It’s a big differential. We felt we had an advantage with our depth, but a lot of times you don’t really know for sure until the game is being played, but we certainly were the more physical, bigger group. That was a big reason why we were able to win the game.”
On the team’s confidence level: “We talk a lot about confidence. You see young players who have a lot of it. Sometimes you see older players that struggle with it. But when you prepare the right way, when you’re somebody that on a daily basis does things the right way on and off the court, and you’re working hard, you’re competing, you’re listening, you’re learning, that in and of itself develops confidence in a player, but it really develops confidence in a team. I can’t say enough good things about our guys. What they’ve done since the beginning of August, how hard they work in the weight room after practice, before practice, following the COVID protocol, getting tested early in the morning, it’s not always fun and it’s not always easy, but we’ve been a group that’s really embraced that, and I think because of that you tend to develop confidence. I do think we have a healthy dose of confidence right now and having said that, it can certainly leave in a hurry. So, our goal is to keep it.”
On Arizona’s defensive play: “Our guys have bought in. We’re getting better, I will tell you that. Some of our younger guys, they’re in better position, they understand the effort level, how hard they have to play, the little things of scouting. Not until you get through a number of games do they really embrace and understand how that’s now a part of defense.”
On Jordan Brown’s recent offensive performance: “I want to reiterate this point: you forget that Jordan is a very young player. Although he was a part of Nevada’s program, he had a smaller role there. He was a freshman on a great team. And then a year ago, although he practiced with us, he got no game experience. So, like some of our freshmen, every time that Jordan has the opportunity to play in a game, he gets smarter, he learns from his mistakes. He’s one of those guys that I’m talking about in that he works hard at it every day, shows up eager to become a better player every day and you’re starting to see that. In and around the basket, he is a very good low post scorer.”
On Azuolas Tubelis: “When you saw him dribble the ball full court and attempt to dunk the ball over Nate Roberts or Amir Wright, whichever one of those two guys is back, I think that play really shows you Azuolas’ upside and his talent. He has a unique way of playing in that he can really go north, south, with the ball, driving and running the floor, and he’s a good athlete. He is the furthest thing from a below the rim player. Especially off one leg, he can really jump. He’s just becoming more sure of himself. I just was talking about our defense. I would put him at the front of the line in he’s really made a lot of improvement here over the last month and it’s nice to see.”
On whether the lack of fans impacted Arizona’s performance Thursday: “I would never admit it’s better without fans. I don’t think any of us can wait another day before we can play in front of our crowd or packed house. Even on the road, that’s part of the challenge of sports, especially college sports, being able to go on the road and win. Now, winning on the road whether there’s people or not, I think it feels very good either way, but it’s more difficult, more challenging with fans for sure. I think all of us just look forward to the day when that returns to sports in general.”
On the team’s New Year’s plans and prep for Washington State: “I don’t think we’re going to do a whole lot of fun other than enjoy this this win and hopefully get to our next stop safely. Our guys, I think they enjoy traveling a little bit more right now because we’ve been in Tucson and nobody really comes and goes like we used to. So, I think just being together, being on the road is in some ways refreshing. Going to places it’s interesting to see our team because we have so many new players and so many international guys, to see their face when they’re in Seattle for the first time. Now it’s going to be the first time that they’ve had a chance to go to Spokane and Pullman and play Washington State, so it’s kind of fun traveling with this group, because there’s not a lot of guys that you can say they’ve been here and done it. Really other than Ira (Lee), most of these guys, these are one and two times they’ve ever been to these places, so we’re going to enjoy each other’s company. I think we have a lot of pride in each other. I respect our players a tremendous amount for giving us their heart and soul and believing in our program and practicing and preparing like they have, so we’re going to enjoy our time together. We know we’re playing an undefeated Washington State team that’s had some extra days to prepare for us so it’s going to be a big time game.”