Win or lose, Arizona Wildcats coach Sean Miller normally takes some time to cool off before holding his postgame press conference. But after his team lost 73-72 in overtime to the Oregon Ducks on Saturday night at McKale Center, Miller ended up in the media room almost immediately after doing a radio interview.
“I just want to get this over with,” a visibly frustrated Miller said following Arizona’s second straight OT loss to the Ducks, a defeat that knocked Arizona out of a tie for first place in the Pac-12.
On coming up short in a close game again: “You know, you have to deliver. This is a big stage at Arizona, and these are the games that we all signed up for. I really look at this as we’re in March Madness, you’re playing for everything right now. You’ve got teams that are desperate.
“You have to be able to get rebounds. When they’re in your hands, you can’t get nervous and the ball goes out, you’ve got to squeeze it. And when you go to the foul line you’ve got to knock them in. And if you’re a team that struggles securing defensive rebounds at the end of games and you don’t make free throws you’re vulnerable. Part of winning is being able to deliver down the stretch.
“If we made our free throws and took away a couple key second shots, including the game-winning shot, we would have hard-fought victory that probably wouldn’t have gone into overtime.”
On Oregon’s second chances: “We have a hard time securing rebounds at the end of games. It’s plagued us as far back as early December. Key shots beat us tonight, among other things. The one common theme with our team, and I’m not going to run from it, when you have the ball in the hands on a defensive rebound or the shot hits the rim and you’re up four, you’re up two, there’s a minute-30 left, there’s 45 seconds left … you go up above the rim, you get it, you land and then they foul you. The ball doesn’t go off your hands, the guy doesn’t run around you, you don’t forget to block out, you don’t let the guy run and get it. Those are the plays that really drive you crazy because that’s just absolute toughness and effort. I wish we were better in that area, we’re not, and that’s why we have the number of losses that we do.
“Those coveted late-game shots that miss, you can not be on the losing end of that in March Madness.”
On the foul shooting: “We were 10 for 21 from the free throw line. It’s very difficult to beat a team as good as Oregon, with this much at stake, and go 10 for 21 from the line. It really negated some really terrific play. You’ve got to make free throws, especially when a guy like Payton Pritchard is against you because he’s not going to miss a free throw. Free throws are a big deal in college basketball, that’s never changed.”
On Pritchard: “I’m gonna give Payton Pritchard tremendous credit. That’s what college basketball used to be about. You’ve got a guy that’s played on four consecutive NCAA tournament teams. He’s the heart and soul of Oregon’s basketball team and he rolled in here tonight and he put 38 on the board, and it was easy. It wasn’t like he hit fadeaways and tough shots, it was an easy 38.
“He is the player of the year in this conference as far as I’m concerned. He’s been a nightmare to play against on one hand and a real pleasure to watch because he’s such a terrific player to watch. I don’t know, does he not get drafted? Is he just too old, is that how this works? I don’t know. I like to think he can play in the NBA.”
On the final play of OT: “We did a good job of executing it, it’s called Home Run, but we didn’t make the free throws. It’s tough on Christian (Koloko) because he was in on defense and no clock ran, we weren’t able to sub. If we were able to sub we probably would have had Zeke (Nnaji) in on that role there.
“But in that situation you want a chance to win and we certainly had one. This loss doesn’t fall on Christian. He did a really good job in a lot of areas, as did a lot of players on our team. Each of those guys is going to shoulder some part of the blame, as is the coach, but there are just so many players that you want to do better when you lose a heartbreaker.”
On the turnovers: “We had 14, that’s too many. But again I want to give Oregon credit, they’re the No. 1 team in our conference in stealing the ball, they play with great effort. When you’re them, and they lose a game at Arizona State, like they lost, they’re going to come in here and fight and fight and fight to the death and we have to be right with them.”
On Dylan Smith: “I don’t know if I’ve seen a guy play any better or harder than he played. Not only did he guard Pritchard for most of the game but he had 18 points. That senior, he did a great job, I’m really proud of him. Where we erred is in the first eight minutes of the game where we didn’t put Dylan on Payton Pritchard and he got off to a really hot start.”
On the craziness of the game: “We’ve been in six games, eight games like this this year. We have to win them. That’s my job to win. Lose and who cares? The objective at the end is to have more points at the end. Every game is a single-elimination game. We played well enough to play a good game, but we didn’t make the plays needed to win the game, and there’s a big difference.”
On Josh Green staying in for the free throws at the end of regulation after taking a hard fall: “All he had to say is his head hurt and we’d have taken him out. I think he felt like he was fine, and it didn’t work out.”
On the play to get him to the line: “I thought it was a great play. Got to the line and missed. I thought our last play of the game, it’s tough to throw the ball 94 feet, get the ball one foot from the rim and have a chance to score. In both of those cases we executed but we didn’t deliver so we lost.”