In their first game without Jemarl Baker Jr., the Arizona Wildcats dominated end to end to earn a 98-64 road victory at Oregon State. The win moves Arizona 10-3 on the season including 4-3 in Pac-12 play.
Our recap can be found here. Below is what coach Sean Miller had to say about Arizona’s impressive win in Corvallis.
On Ben Mathurin’s first appearance as a starter: “Well, Ben has a lot of talent and as I’ve explained numerous times in our time together, you can kind of see him developing almost week by week. Each week he’s a little bit more confident, more sure of himself. He has a beautiful looking shot and Ben deserves a lot of credit. He works on it constantly before practice, after practice. I don’t know if he’s missed a practice since he’s been here, but he’s starting to really develop into a special player. Tonight, it wasn’t that he was just red hot. I thought he really let the game come to him. His teammates found him. And I was also equally happy with his improvement defensively. As he’s out there a little bit more, I think he’s more sure of himself as a defender.”
On Mathurin’s high confidence level: “He’s a great kid, he’s a tough kid. He played at the NBA Academy in Mexico City, so he traveled the world, was well coached there. Really was well disciplined in school, and he’s got a really strong family behind him. But on top of his strong family, him being at the NBA Academy, I really think sped up his development. You have to remember Benn and Dalen (Terry) are both 18, and I don’t think we’ve had somebody that young here. So he really should be a senior in high school, and I think he obviously has a very, very bright future. The play of the game for me was when he ran as hard as he did defensively and blocked a shot. There aren’t too many guys that can block it, but the fact that he gave that type of effort and got the block, those are the plays that we need to make. Quite frankly, those are some of the plays we needed to make last week. You have to start somewhere and hopefully this game gives not only Ben more confidence in that area but our team as well.”
On Jordan Brown’s prolific performance off the bench: “We changed the lineup, but it wasn’t really to Jordan’s detriment. His role and his minutes will continue to be about the same if not moving towards playing more. But sometimes when you take a guy out of the lineup, it gives them a chance to watch the beginning of the game, watch things settle in. He can enter the game with a different mind than being out there at the tip. Jordan started every game for us. One of the things that I like about Christian (Koloko) is Christian is our best low post defender. He does a lot of things that help our defense, and based on the way our team is right now, I think that him starting makes sense for really both parties, and my hope is that it brings out the best in our team.”
On the advantage of moving players like Brown and Terry into different roles: “Sometimes it helps a guy. Jordan has started every game in Arizona. This is the first game that he didn’t start. And one of the things that we tried to really talk to him about is, it’s not as if Jordan Brown did anything wrong or he didn’t get it done last week. We had a lot of players and the coaching staff that didn’t get it done last week against USC and UCLA. But if you allow a good player who’s working hard, who you know can give you more, and you sometimes allow him to see the start of the game from the bench, and then kind of come into the game at a different time, it takes the pressure off. I feel the same way about Dalen. Dalen is an instrumental and important part of our team. Not having to worry about producing as a starter and being able to come into the game and kind of pick his spots to play his game, both of those guys I think are high quality players. Jordan, in particular, having 25 points, it’s not easy to score 25 points. Going 10 for 12 from the floor, it’s certainly not easy to do that as well.”
On whether the team needed a game like this to get their mojo back: “I don’t know. I know we needed a win. We did some really good things in both games in McKale. It doesn’t mean much if the final score isn’t supportive of that, but our offense in both games, our ability to play 40 minutes and take care of the ball, to score. We did some good things. There were times, especially against USC, that I thought our defense was really intact for a lot of the first half. You got to be a 40-minute team. To beat the best teams, you have to be able to sustain that good play, both on defense and on offense. I keep talking about taking care of the ball. We had 10 turnovers tonight. I know we had a couple of very late, but 21 assists and 10 turnovers, I think this is now the fifth or sixth game in a row where we’re playing in and around 11 turnovers. So our ability to take care of the ball, that’s big. We’re gonna miss Jemarl Baker a lot. Jemarl, one of his gifts as a player is he’s very bright, he makes good decisions and he takes care of the ball at a very, very high level. So we lost that. We just have to make sure that we continue to take care of the ball without him.”
On whether Miller is confident with the new lineup: “I don’t know. Obviously we’re gonna really miss Jamal Baker. He’s a great kid. He’s one of our team’s leaders, he’s a very good player. I think he was second on our team in minutes played. So our charge is to find a way to get ready, give some of the current players that we have a bigger role, a different opportunity. I thought we practiced very well the last three or four days, hard. For the most part tonight our defense was intact. Not the entire game. We let down a little bit there in the second half. But I thought for some of the game, that was the best that we could do in terms of effort, togetherness, cohesiveness. I didn’t look at Oregon State as taking ill advised shots or not being able to run their offense. I thought we guarded them very well and we have to build on that. We’ve had good defensive performances throughout the season, but again it’s sustaining that throughout a 40 minute game against good teams. It’s also about sustaining it from one game to the next to the next. There’s a lot of teams that can do good things on offense and defense for a game, two in a row, three in a row, but then they can’t sustain it. And I think one of the things we’re trying to get better at is just having an identity that we can count on, and we have to be a better overall defensive team than we were really the last two and a half games, half of the game against Washington State.”
On whether Miller expected Azuolas Tubelis to make this kind of impact so early on: “Yes, we were familiar with Azuolas as a player. He’s a very talented young man. Like a lot of freshmen, each of those guys seem to hit their stride at a different point. And I thought he started to hit his stride being comfortable about 10 to 14 days ago. We’re at a point now where we have to make sure that we get him the ball in scoring position. One of the things that I thought happened is we got away from getting him the ball at times, because he’s so efficient right now at getting fouled, scoring from two and utilizing that advantage he has on, a lot of times. the player that’s guarding him. We got away from that a little bit here tonight, but there’s always things you can learn from a game, good and bad. Just like last week, there’s a number of things that we really tried to point to of areas that we were good at. Segments of the game that we played at a winning level. Tonight there’s certain things that I think we can point to to obviously grow and be better at, but it’s good to come up here and win on the road. I’ve been up here with some really good teams that have left with a hard fought loss. So, winning on the road, we’ll take it. This is our third Pac-12 road win. Road wins can give a young group confidence. It really can. There’s a lot of ways you can get confidence but getting on that plane or bus, being away from home, only having each other and leaving with a hard fought victory, that’s one way that a team can believe more in themselves and that’s something that we’re aware of. We got to make sure that our confidence is good.”
On how soon Miller will know if Arizona can schedule a non-conference game for early next week: “We’ll probably know maybe as soon as tomorrow. If we knew now I would tell you. It’s just, I think we’re dealing with a number of things, talking to the Pac-12 office, talking to our administration, making sure that we don’t get in the way of anything that the Pac-12 would try to do in terms of scheduling a Pac-12 game with another team etc. So we’re not in total control of that, but as I’ve explained all along, we want to play our full allotment of non-conference games. It’s not easy to do because travel. We are going to only play a game if it’s local or at home. So we have a couple windows and both Arizona State weeks offer us that window. So, we might take advantage of it. But we should know I would say at some point tomorrow, at the latest Saturday.”