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What Sean Miller said after Arizona’s win over Washington State

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arizona-wildcats-ira-lee-kerr-kriisa-eligibility-concussion-sean-miller-college-basketball-pac12-2020 Jacob Snow-USA TODAY Sports

What could have been a really bad loss turned into a very welcoming win for the Arizona Wildcats on Thursday night, as they exploded in the second half to beat the Washington State Cougars 83-62.

Our full recap can be found here, while below are what coach Sean Miller had to say about Arizona’s 20th victory of the season.

On the overall performance: “I am very, very happy with our second half. It’s oftentimes not easy to put a subpar half of basketball … and then come out and play as well as we did in the second half. The first couple of minutes of the second half they took a small lead and turned it into, I think they were up six. From that point on we used our defense to get out in transition. The confidence that might have been lacking in the first half, it came back to us.”

On Zeke Nnaji: “Zeke, having 14 points in the first half, it’s hard to do, but I felt like he could have had 20. He missed a couple of shots that were uncharacteristic for him.”

On Nico Mannion: “Nico was terrific tonight. I think that’s back-to-back games where he’s really running our team, making shots, playing with a lot of confidence. I really hope that continues, both for him and for our team. Playing at UCLA and tonight might have been his best back-to-back overall games of the season. A lot of freshmen hit their stride and we’re certainly hoping he can do that.”

On Josh Green’s return: “It’s not easy to miss a week, to be injured, not practice, be away from the team. He’s done a good job working his way back. Part of what we struggled with in the first half is it just felt funny for him and maybe a little bit for our team. He was back out there but was he really back out there? In the second half I think he really found his footing. Moving forward obviously he’s a very key piece.”

On the 26-0 run: “It had both good offense and good defense. A lot of our good offense begins with our ability to play really solid defense and make hard plays on the ball, be tough, be disciplined. That leads to transition opportunities. Our team, when we get out in transition, a lot of great things have happened for us all year.”

On whether he’s surprised Arizona hasn’t had more big scoring runs: “No. We’ve struggled to shoot, we’ve struggled to make shots. I try to be as critical as I can, are they good (shots)? No doubt at times shot selection with this year’s team has been, maybe not problematic, but more of an issue that we’ve tried to address. But we’ve also missed quite a few good ones. As you can see we certainly have it in us. When we’re playing very good defense and offense I feel like we can play with anybody.”

On how Arizona can gain more consistent confidence: “That’s sports. I’m not sure anyone can really answer that. I think confidence always comes through regular performance. And sometimes not making the game bigger than it needs to. Basketball is the ultimate game of making plays. You play defense and offense, you have teammates, and there’s a lot of ways to impact winning. Not just if the ball goes in. I think sometimes, especially if you’re a younger guy, that’s really what everybody talks about—points, shots, field goal percentage. Our ability to get defensive rebounds, we got a couple of steals tonight off of our underneath out of bounds, side out of bounds defense, that turned the game and helped us in that run. Those are all plays that you can make. That’s really been an emphasis for us, to really encourage our guys to make plays, not shots, and to finish. Be a better team down the home stretch each game.”

On if Mannion is finally living up to the hype: “In fairness to him, it’s a world of expectations that are almost impossible to meet. If you look at the role he has a freshman, the amount of minutes that he’s played and the games that he’s played really well in, he’s had a really dynamic first year. We’re all holding him to this standard of excellence of today’s world of college basketball. It just takes time. It takes time to get comfortable, it takes time to learn what it takes to play against a college zone.

“Watching Nico feel comfortable now, it makes sense because he’s been through a lot of different experiences. And just watching that ball go through the basket, it takes the pressure off of him. As we all know he’s certainly a capable shooter. He stayed with it. He doesn’t skip practice, he practices hard. He’s learned the way to win in college basketball. He’s seen what it feels like to lose. I don’t think someone like Nico’s improvement you can attribute to just working extra in the gym or after practice. It’s everything. It’s film, it’s playing well against from home, against different types of players.

“If I just judge Nico on his defense, it might be the biggest gap that anyone on our team has filled between maybe when we scrimmaged against Saint Mary’s and where he is today. He has the know-how, he has a lot of reps under him, he’s just much more dependable and an overall better defensive player. Again, when you expect so much from him, that’s oftentimes overlooked.”

On Dylan Smith’s defense: “He got in foul trouble but he had a big steal that helped us get on our run. He’s done the dirty work with our team all season long, guarding the other team’s best player. You don’t a lot of times get credit for that, but he’s where he’s supposed to be. He’s had his ups and downs on offense, but as I said earlier in the week, Dylan Smith, he shows up every day. He works at it. He deserves to finish here on a really strong note.”

On shutting down WSU’s C.J. Elleby again: “Josh Green and Dylan combined to defend him. As is always the case, it’s the team as well. Guys helping.”

On turnovers: “I don’t know if we’ve had a team here at Arizona that plays in spurts in that area. We’re good at taking care of the ball, but we can be great. Tonight is another example. We had eight turnovers at the half, and we had a couple silly turnovers at the very, very end of the game, but we played the entire second half with basically three or four. It’s not easy to turn the ball over only three times in a half. We have to even that out, that’s part of our offensive and defensive problems. On Saturday that statistic is the biggest one. You cannot turn the ball over against Washington. You have to be able to attack their zone and play in transition. Make good shots.”

On facing Washington: “That was one of our best road victories of the year because that game could have gone either way. Last time we played against Washington, I remember how the game felt the first half, we just had a lot of young players playing against that type of zone for the first time. I’d like to think they probably feel better than they have in a really long team, being that they were able to beat Arizona State. We knew whether they beat Arizona State or not that they were capable of beating us.”

On the status of Chase Jeter (suspension) and Max Hazzard (personal reasons): “Chase will not be a part of what we’re doing on Saturday, but he’ll return after Saturday. I don’t have a comment on Max. It’s personal.”

(Note: a UA spokesman said Jeter will participate in Senior Day activities on Saturday.)