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What Sean Miller said after Arizona’s win at Cal

Among other things, he explained the decision to keep Dylan Smith in the starting 5

NCAA Basketball: Arizona at California D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats picked up their third straight road win Thursday, beating the California Golden Bears 68-52 in Berkeley.

Our full recap can be found here, and here is what Sean Miller had to say afterwards. All quotes were transcribed from Arizona Athletics’ YouTube video, which can be watched at the end of this article.

Miller’s overall thoughts: “It was a big game for us, bouncing back from our last game, which was a home loss to UCLA. And as oftentimes has been the case with our group, we’ve learned through a lot of different experiences, but when we failed, I think we’ve grown a little bit. And I thought we handled just ourselves overall better tonight in terms of playing against the style that was a little bit slower. Cal did a really good job rebounding the ball, but they’ve been very good all year at home, and we knew that and I thought we came in for a lot of purpose.”

On Dylan Smith who had 14 points and went 4 for 5 from 3: “I’d like to give Dylan Smith a lot of credit. He’s really been struggling with his shot, and when you’re in your last year, you lose to team like UCLA and you’re not playing well, you can really go south and stay there. But I thought his three days of practice, he got himself ready to go, he worked extra and he played a terrific game tonight. 4 from 5 from 3 was a big reason that we were able to win the game.”

On Smith starting: “I don’t want Dylan Smith to be the scapegoat because we lost a home and because of his shooting. You don’t start him tonight, all of a sudden that’s the answer. There’s a reason that Dylan starts, and it’s through his hard work and he’s a two-way player, he gives a lot of hustle and a lot of effort on defensive end, and he did that as well tonight. But I thought he played within himself and his 3-point shooting really broke the game open in the second half.”

On Zeke Nnaji having 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting: “It’s just to really take advantage of our best matchup. And there were times where we got away from it. And it’s not as if our guys are only allowed to pass the ball to Zeke or we can’t have a possession where he doesn’t touch it. I’m not saying that. But he’s very efficient and the other guys, for example Dylan, they’re able to create good scoring opportunities off of him because the other team has to help, has to double, or we get their guys in foul trouble and they go to a zone, and that opens up some perimeter shooting. So, Zeke has been very consistent and he’s playing really good right now.”

On when Arizona is at its best: “When we have balance and there’s nothing wrong with taking quick shots if they’re good. And Nico (Mannion) I thought had some really good moments tonight. It was good to see Max Hazzard make a shot there against the zone in the right corner. But we got contributions from a lot of players. We played 10 guys and when you play 10 guys, you hope that you can get kind of a wearing-down effect throughout the game where we’re able to stay fresh in the second half, especially in February, especially back to back games on the road like this. It’s not just for tonight, but it’s for Saturday as well.”

On responding from the loss to UCLA: “No doubt, we were a hungry team. Nobody was lauding us with much praise and understandably so. But we have a younger group and we have a lot of guys that are with us this year that weren’t last year. It’s taken us probably more time in certain areas that maybe we would like, but all we can do is just continue to grow and learn and keep getting better. I mentioned it before the games last week, whether we were going to win or lose how I felt how we practiced, and I will tell you that before we came here on trip we really had a focused group, we had a couple really spirited practices, guys worked extra, and obviously this is an important road trip for us.”

On Chase Jeter scoring his first bucket since Jan. 12: “He’s been able to practice and I almost feel like he’s back to 100 percent now. It’s taken him some time, but that’s why we played him tonight. We have to just continue to build and grow our team. It’s been different so many different times, but Christian Koloko did a good job tonight as well. But those big guys of Ira Lee, Stone, Zeke, Christian, and Chase, it’s one of our team strengths. We have a lot of different bodies in there, but it’s hard to play everybody and some guys are going to play more than others. But it was good that Chase got a chance to play It’s hard, but there’s not a big difference between a lot of our guys and I thought Christian Koloko, you block that many shots in such a short span, you deserve more of an opportunity. The one thing we’ve talked a lot about is playing him every game, which we have, but sometimes a little bit more can be good for both him and our team.”

On Arizona pulling away after Cal made a run to make it 33-32: “Well, we came out of the timeout, we really got the ball inside and Zeke Nnaji delivered a couple inside shots, got fouled a couple times. And then when you do that it can open the floodgates for some other people. But I thought being a smarter group, really taking advantage of him around the basket, I thought that was a difference.”