There are certain occurrences in life in which you’ll always remember what you were doing when they happened.
For Sean Miller, one of those will be when he found out the 2019-20 college basketball season had been shut down by a global pandemic.
“I think it will be unforgettable where we all were when things started to get cancelled, and we’d gone into the kind of COVID-19 phase that we’ve been in for a while now,” Miller said during a 37-minute video interview with longtime Arizona Wildcats radio voice Brian Jeffries that was released Thursday.
Miller and his staff were gathered in a suite at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on the morning of March 12, both breaking down the day before’s impressive win over Washington in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament and preparing for USC that was coming up that afternoon. Then word broke that the remainder of the Pac-12 tourney was cancelled, and not long after the NCAA Tournament was called off because of concerns about coronavirus.
Miller said that 77-70 victory over the Huskies, which proved to be the final game of the season, was “one of our season’s best performances.”
It put Arizona’s record at 21-11 and gave the Wildcats momentum heading into the quarterfinals, possibly setting the stage for a memorable run in March.
“We were in this year’s NCAA Tournament,” Miller said. “And we also had the makings, because of our youth, and because of being able to play a brand of basketball in March that I believe could have allowed us to win in a tournament setting, that the best could have been right around the corner for us.”
Then again, considering the inconsistent nature of much of the regular season, Arizona could have also just as easily lost the next two games. We’ll never know what might have been, but Miller said it wouldn’t be fair to label the 2019-20 campaign as a letdown.
“One thing that I hope everybody can take a deep breath and realize, please don’t ever put us in a category or judge this past season as a failure or incomplete,” he said. “Because making the NCAA Tournament, it’s never been more difficult in today’s game. I’ll use North Carolina as an example. North Carolina has just been a standard of excellence for generations and decades. They had a losing season this year. All you have to do is just look, each and every year, there’s that program that you never could ever imagine not being part of March Madness, and yet because of so much turnover and parity, that once in a while that happens in programs where, decades ago, it would have been an impossibility for them not to be a part of March Madness.”
Not that there weren’t things to be upset about during the season, Miller admitted.
“The disappointment lied in losing so many one-possession and heartbreaking games,” he said. “If we would have broken through in some of those one-possession games, we would have won the Pac-12 or we would have finished neck-and-neck with the actual winner of the Pac-12. Instead of winning 21, maybe we win 24 or 23 games.
“It’s just hard to say, boy, you guys really laid an egg. The expectations here are so high, and thank goodness they are, it’s what makes this program so great. I leave this season with my head held very high, because I think in some ways it’s a bridge from a couple years of uncertainty to a bright, bright future.
“There will be a day where we all get back together in McKale. We look forward to bringing you a great team, continuing to improve and getting back to competing for a fifth Final Four and a second national championship. It’s something that motivates us every day.”