The Arizona Wildcats had five players score in double figures Wednesday as they routed the Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners 85-60 to improve to 4-0 on the season.
Our recap can be found here, and here is the video and transcript of Sean Miller’s postgame interview.
Miller on Arizona’s identity: “As you well know, the identity of a team can change throughout a season. I’ll use last year as an example. Our non-conference year, it was really about our offense, our ability to score, shoot. And we had guys coming in off the bench, who didn’t start that could really shoot the three. Obviously the firepower of Nico and Josh and Zeke as three newcomers, but by the time we got to the end, I wish we were overall better off offensively, but we became an excellent defensive team and some of our best moments came on the defensive side of the ball.
“With this year’s team, because of how many new players we have, I think it’s fairly obvious that that identity could change as our year goes. One thing I will tell you, I think our team this year has played with an edge to us. I think that we’re really locked in on trying to be a better group, better team. We play nine quality players, and on different nights, different players can step up and play well, whether it’s scoring, shooting. You saw some of that tonight.
On James Akinjo, who had eight points and seven assists: “I can’t say enough good things about James Akinjo. He is a tough, tough kid. He’s a very very good competitor. Competitor isn’t just on game night, it’s what’s he like every day. James loves this game, he practices hard, he sets the tone for us, both on offense and defense, and I think his his toughness and playing with a chip on his shoulder, it can be a contagious thing. I do think that’s part of our identity. Our young guys are fun to coach, they’re eager to improve. And I believe they are improving. James has a pitbull quality to him, you feel it, he loves the big moment he competes, he loves to play the game. Tonight we had some really good transition opportunities, and he was instrumental in almost all of them. Seven assists and two turnovers, I thought he did a good job really finding his teammates tonight.”
On having five different players in double figures: “We have quality depth, we have a group that I think will really improve as the year goes on. We play with an edge to us, on defense on offense. When you watched us against Grambling, you might have scratched your head and (were) saying ‘where are we going to score?’ But as you can see our offense is smoothing. It’s smoother. We move the ball easier, and that should happen, simply because playing games with practice now, we have, we have a much better chance to improve, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re a better team tonight than we were when we started playing games four games ago. The key is can we continue to grow in the next couple of weeks as we head towards Christmas and the end of our non-conference season and the beginning of a very good Pac-12 season.”
On Dalen Terry, who had 10 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and two steals: “Dalen Terry is a unique player, too. He plays all over the place and he’s a pass-first player. He’s looking to get his teammates involved. I think he’s also a really tough guy and a competitor, plays both ends. I’ve been really impressed with his work ethic. Benn Mathurin and Dalen Terry and Azuolas Tubelis, maybe combined, have missed a single day since the beginning of the school year. I mean, they show up every day and work at it, and it’s really gratifying to see. Those guys, they trusted us, they came here, we didn’t have a summer, nobody did. And we’re really utilizing this fall period of time, and now the month of December, to keep improving. Dalen, for example, he’s in the gym, whenever he’s able to be in the mornings with Jason Terry. He shoots between 6 and 7 a.m. four or five days a week. Constantly working after practice, before practice. And I think that’s another really good quality of our team, that they love the game. They like to be around each other. And you could probably feel that a little bit when you watch them play.”
On Arizona winning games instead of being upset like so many other teams: “Stating the obvious, we still are very much a work in progress. I was watching my brother’s team, Indiana, play Florida State. If we were in Tallahassee tonight we might not look nearly as good, obviously. We’re taking advantage of being here in Tucson. We’re taking advantage of hard and good practices. We’ve had a good stretch of health, hopefully that can continue. And we have a group of guys that that I do believe are improving. We’ve had some very good practices through the quiet months of September and October, and I feel that way right now, that, although we have a lot of new faces, I think we’re moving in a positive direction. That’s the one thing that I’m confident and saying, we’re moving in a positive direction. We’re better today than we were a week ago.”
On if Arizona’s high-octane offense is sustainable: “We’ve always wanted to push it. Back to my point, we’re really early on here, as games move forward sometimes your pace tends to settle in, and I’m sure some of that will happen. We want to run off of defensive stops. We want to be fast into our offense. Our guys are doing a good job of that right now. We had great possessions off of missed shots, blocked shot, steals, and some of those some of those possessions led to 3-point shooting. Hopefully we can keep that up.”
On getting used to playing without fans: “Obviously we want to win, we want to play our best. It is really unique playing in McKale (Center) without our fans, I don’t have to say it. I think everybody feels that we really miss having our fans, 14,000, the great crowds that we’ve. We’re at the point now when we watch clips from a year ago ... it looks strange to see a packed house, but we look forward to that day down the road. Right now, our guys are playing a good brand of basketball. They’re unselfish. I believe that you can’t question our effort level, and we make a ton of mistakes. But what’s been fun to watch is we seem to make less of those mistakes and errors as we’ve played more games.”
On Terrell Brown, who had 16 points, 6 rebounds, 4 rebounds and zero turnovers: “One of the things we love about him is he’s really good with the basketball, six assists and no turnovers. So if you have James Akinjo and him out there together, that’s 13 assists between two players. Jemarl Baker, although he’s a very good shooter, he’s very good with the ball in his hands, takes care of it, a good passer, a combo guard and then I talked about Dalen Terry. You watch us play, I hope you can continue to see the ball move and us share it and make good plays. Some of that, you saw tonight where it wasn’t just one player, a point guard, it was a lot of different players being unselfish. And when you’re unselfish, and you have a good group, those guys will continue to grow and improve.”
On Dalen Terry and Benn Mathurin: “They’re 18 years old but in their own right they’re different. Dalen’s wingspan is 7-feet-1, he’s not a small guy. He keeps getting stronger. And Ben, ditto for him. He’s got a big wingspan and a strong body, athletic body. Those two guys at the wing position give us great size. I think the one thing about our three guards, Jemarl Baker, Terrell Brown and James Akinjo, they’re not young, they’re physically strong. And then obviously we have our four big guys. Christian Koloko, who brings a shot-blocking mentality.”
On Christian Koloko: “This is the best game that he’s played, he’s had eight shot blocks combined in the last two games. Those are eight blocks that lead to us getting the ball. You guys knew this a year ago when you watched Christian, but he’s another one of these young players that just needs game experience, and the more experience that he gets, I think the better player that he’ll become.”
On UTEP, Arizona’s next opponent: “I think Rodney (Terry)’s teams at Fresno and at UTEP play hard, they play physical. Bakersfield does the same thing under Rod Barnes. We really appreciate Bakersfield coming to play us. It’s not easy, right now, to play these non-conference games. We respect their program quite a bit. He’s an excellent coach and they have a very good program. They’re talented, they got a couple individual players that have a chance to play beyond college basketball, maybe even in the NBA, and Rodney does a good job. They play with great energy and effort, and I think they they might be the most talented group that we’ve face this year when they show up to play here on Saturday.”