On a night when Sean Miller reached 400 career victories, the Arizona Wildcats coach wasn’t much for celebrating after his team nearly blew a 20-point lead before hanging on to beat the USC Trojans 85-80 on Thursday night at McKale Center.
You can read our complete recap here, while below are Miller’s comments from the postgame press conference:
On the near-collapse: ”We didn’t play well. We didn’t play smart. I really feel like we struggled throughout the game. You can always tell when the group is locked in. On our last road trip, the focus, our team defense and really the possessions offensively—I know we didn’t shoot a great percentage on the road, you have to give credit to the teams we played—but I thought everything was was really about the team and I don’t know if I felt better about this year’s team (than) on that trip.
“Tonight we obviously reverted. We had a hard time practicing leading up to the game. I don’t think we had a great shootaround. Although we did a number of good things tonight, there were just too many moments where we reverted to a quick shot for no reason. Time, score, situation. (Not) playing hard-nosed, great effort defensively. If they make a shot, you have to give credit to the other team, but you don’t ever want to give them one. You don’t want to give them a dunk, you don’t want to give them an open three. We struggled mightily on defense, we really reverted. That’s not to take away from USC, they’re a great team. I’m not really talking about them, I’m talking our group.”
On Josh Green: “It was great to see him play well. He’s really been practicing, he really has practiced well and hard. And I think his heart is in the right place. It’s not easy when you struggle as a young player, but he’s really gone about things the right way. I was just happy to see him play how he played tonight. He really saved us, in large part, because of his own performance. I thought it bolstered our ability to score in getting 85 points. I’m not surprised at all the Josh played well, I really would have predicted that he would play well, because of how he’s approached these last probably 10 days. It’s really great to see a freshman kind of bounce back from from missing some shots. He was a big factor in our win tonight.”
On trying to right the ship late in the game: “It’s kind of like that jockey coming down the stretch. You gotta pick and choose, but you can only hit it so hard. With a team you have to pick and choose, sometimes the best way to learn is just failing. We’ve done that a number of times. We have a very young team, we have a group that has a lot to learn. We’re very fortunate to win tonight.”
On not being happy just to win: “I think if we would have lost it probably would have allowed them to learn more.”
On what can be taken from this game: “Tonight, I can’t evaluate really our entire performance because we had so many things tugging and pulling at us, breakdowns effort-wise. It’s hard because there’s so much at stake for players individually that what they don’t understand, until it’s over, is the respect in our game, in college basketball, is always and has always been given to those teams and programs that win and thrive.
“Not win a few games but win 25 games, win 20 games, win conference championships, not only make the tournament—which today is harder than ever—but be able to get into that tournament and win it. And when you do that, the team success, it just carries the individual players. No matter what role you have, when your team wins big the accolades and individual things that you really sometimes chase and dream of accomplishing, it really happens. But when you don’t win, or you win a few and lose a few, not until sometimes that period is over, do you completely understand that you’re not going to get out of this what you really want. You have to win.”
On facing UCLA on Saturday: “We have to learn from this, try our best, and see that we can be better on Saturday because I’m here to tell you that UCLA is a hard-nosed team. They play defense, they play together, they rebound, and they’re a much-improved team than where they were two months ago or a month ago. I know their coach well, and they work at it. They’re that group that can come in and really give the sloppy, fat and happy team a lesson. We sometimes can be that team. It’s up to us to focus on (the) group.
“Our objective is to get a home sweep. But based on our team tonight we have to be better in some areas, and grow and be more ready for UCLA. Because UCLA, they play hard. I admire how hard they play.”
On shaky free-throw shooting down the stretch: “It’s confidence. We were 28 for 40, we shot 40 free throws so that’s a lot, shot 70 percent. Why it feels different is we missed quite a few down the stretch. That’s really the least of my worries because that will that will regain its form.”
On turnovers and rebounding: “The two stats that we really honed in on, and it’ll be equally big on Saturday, is our turnovers. We played the entire game with six. It’s our greatest strength. And we were able to rebound them 34 to 30, but that’s deceiving as well because it reminds me of a couple of other games that we played. Maybe at Oregon. We were really in command, maybe by a rebound margin of 10, eight, maybe even more than 10. But it creeped to four because we gave up just those killer second shots and allowed us to stay in the game or make a run or hang in there. If we would have rebounded the ball down the stretch, we would have been fine. This is game, for us, game 22. We had that problem game one. We have to just continue to work.”
On converting turnovers into points: “We’re at our best in transition. We make, normally, some very good plays. We made some really good plays tonight. We did score 85, so it’s not all gloom and doom, but that 85 could have easily been 90. I think my concern is that USC had 47 in the second half, and I’ve just seen that too many times.”
On Max Hazzard only playing eight minutes: “I really wish we had played Max more. I’ve kind of bounced around with him and it’s time for us to give him more of an opportunity. If he plays 16 minutes, I think that gives them the best chance to be himself and then if he plays well, we can grow that. It keeps us fresh. I think Max is just a phenomenal kid, his heart’s in the right place. I feel bad because he’s had a really good week of practice. We have to give him more of an opportunity. That’s going to come from this point on.”
On Christian Koloko on playing two minutes: “Christian, he’s gonna play every game. Some games he’ll contribute more than others. We went with more of a physical group, but I thought those guys did a good job.”
On Chase Jeter not playing: “We’re playing nine players, it’s hard to play 10. That’s not to say Chase won’t get the opportunity but we played the guys that we thought gave us the best chance here tonight. He’s missed a lot of time.”