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What Sean Miller said after Arizona’s ugly loss to UCLA

The UA coach called out his team’s toughness

NCAA Basketball: UCLA at Arizona Jacob Snow-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats saw their 3-game win streak come to an end on Saturday night in dismal fashion, shooting just 25.4 percent—the worst rate in McKale Center history—in a 65-52 home loss to UCLA.

Our full recap can be found here, while below is what coach Sean Miller had to say afterward:

On the overall performance: “We didn’t have a good performance tonight. UCLA deserves a lot of credit, their defense was a big reason they won. And so was their offense. They were good at both ends. They were prepared, they were better than us, and they were really better than us from start to finish. We got beat on defense, we got beat on offense and we have a couple guys that certainly really struggled tonight.”

On Arizona’s offense: “We were 3 for 19 from two in the first half. It’s hard to make three twos. We were 0 for 12 in the second half from three, and we were 3 of 19 from two in first half. If you don’t have any defense against you—as good as UCLA’s defense might have been—if you’re just in the gym five on zero ... you think about how hard it is to miss 16 shots of the 19 from two and then the 12 (threes) in the second half.

On a carryover from the USC game: “I go back to the last 10 minutes of USC. It’s hard to be gloom and doom when you win, but the last 10 minutes of USC reminded me of a lot of parts of this game. And that’s not to take anything away from UCLA because they did a great job here tonight on both sides. They were the bigger, stronger, more physical team. And we really struggled against their style.

“You’ll say, ‘did you see this coming?’ Absolutely. Not that I saw a loss coming, but I knew that the way they play would be very difficult for the makeup of our team. And it was. Hopefully we will be better the next time when we face them.

“We really worked hard on the heels of our USC game to make sure we’re locked in and prepared. There’s no magic potion, and I don’t want to point towards our preparation as the reason we lost. The game starts at eight o’clock on Saturday, it’s a big game, it’s a nationally televised game. Clearly, we had a lot of respect for UCLA. I knew that their style would be problematic for certain guys and just our team. But, you hope that as the game wears on, you get used to it, playing at home and you have a lot of different players that can step up.”

On getting within one midway through the second half: “It’s hard to believe, (at) just under the 10-minute mark of the game, that it was 45-44 and a one-point game. It really never felt like that, it felt like we’re always climbing uphill. And to be down one point to half, I think it gives you a lot of hope as kind of a physical rock fight type of game. Second half was more of the same, we came out very flat from halftime, first four minutes. We had a couple guys that weren’t playing well.”

On UCLA shooting 51.1 percent: “UCLA did a really good job on offense. If it wasn’t for their turnovers, they would have had a much, much bigger night.”

On the team running hot and cold: “We have our three most of everything—most minutes played, most point total—freshman guys. And thank goodness we have them, they’ve done a great job. But when you’re riding their production every day and every game, there’s going to be some some ups and downs.”

On Dylan Smith’s play: I think Dylan (Smith) is obviously struggling with his shot, he’s missed about 20 in a row. But, Dylan is 6-5 and he’s that one wing player that can really help us defensively. Our subs are much smaller, so it’s tough just to go without him because we trust him on defense and he’s also had some really good moments on offense this season. Hopefully he can get his confidence back. You want your team to have confidence. We certainly didn’t look like we had confidence tonight. That’s all me. That’s my job as the coach.”

On if UCLA did anything surprising on defense: “No, they’re just very physical. When you shoot the percentage that we shot, you would say, ‘well, they’re a shot-blocking team, they play above the rim. We’ve played against teams like that. They had one one block. They had one block. We missed now some layups. I used the analogy a second ago, but they’re very similar shots that you’re getting when there’s no defense. It’s drive, no one there, and miss. We had one of those nights, and when you have one of those nights, you’re gonna have to win another way. And we couldn’t win the other way.”

On Zeke Nnaji struggling, going 2 for 8 from the field: “Yeah, it was a physical night. I coached against Cincinnati and that’s who we played tonight. We just weren’t ready for it. It’s a man’s game. You have to be physical, you have to go through contact, you can’t cry. Sometimes you have to make a clever pass because they’re physical and walling up, and their toughness and physicality wore on all of us. it worn on our team, wore on our drives, wore on our second shots. Early in the game you could see guys are like begging for the foul and falling down. And you have to know going into the game that they’re playing that type of game, and you have to be able to adjust but that that really bothered us and I thought it bothered us at both ends.”

On what spurred the comeback that brought Arizona within 45-44: “We played small, and really super small—four guards and Zeke. I think that lineup for us, it can get us back in the game, it can change the game, it can kind of give us a different scheme. But at the end of the day, all of us as teams have an identity. I think you would see if we just stayed with that the entirety, it would have caused other problems. For example, rebounding. You saw a couple of times when our smaller guys got switched on their big wings, they took advantage of it, so it kind of forced our hand to go back. But we really struggled guarding at that 4 position tonight ... And you could switch and kind of get into a zone but we’re playing from behind. We struggled as much on offense. It wasn’t a one-sided deal. You can talk 10 minutes about offense, and you’d say ‘boy, it’s tough to win when you have those numbers, then you can talk the next 10 minutes about defense. They beat us at both ends and you got to give UCLA a lot of credit.”

On getting outrebounded 35-30: “When you miss as many shots as we miss, it favors the defense. But we were outrebounding them I believe by four at the half. So the second half shows you how dominant that part of the game was. We couldn’t get any second shots on them. They got a few on us, and we missed a ton of shots. That’s the other problem when you go small, you’re not going to be able to get those second shots as easily when you go small. So you have to get advantages in a different way. And although it worked for a moment, it wasn’t the the solution long term in that game.”

On Arizona’s identity: “We’re really trying to be good at both sides of the ball, and I thought on our Washington trip...that was the overall best defense we played all season and we got two great victories away from home on nights when the ball wasn’t necessarily going in, kind of like tonight. Had some good looks, didn’t go in. But for about maybe 28 or 30 minutes of USC, we were solid, but we had a hard time playing hard the entirety. And when you play against a team like UCLA, they play hard, and they played hard tonight, the advantage is going to go to them. And I thought they were tougher, stronger, harder playing team on drives around the rim. And again, all you had to do is watch it—one-on-one drives when we were on defense, shots around the basket on some of our drives where we were begging for a foul. And like always we missed some point-blank shots, we missed some good shots as well.”