The Arizona Wildcats survived a first half injury to Bennedict Mathurin and a second half rally from Arizona State to top the Sun Devils 80-67 at McKale Center on Monday night. The victory completed Arizona’s first sweep of ASU since 2017-18.
With the win, the Wildcats move to 12-3 and 6-3 in Pac-12 play. Our full recap can be found here and here’s the video and transcript of UA head coach Sean Miller’s postgame press conference.
On Bennedict Mathurin’s status: “We’ll know more over the next couple of days. I know that he got an X-ray and his ankle is not broken. It’s a sprain. There’s different severities of a sprain as we all know. I don’t think his is significant, but it might be the first ankle injury he’s ever had. So, if it’s happened to you before, the first one scares you more than anything. So my hope is that over the next couple of days that we really are able to develop some confidence in him, and he’s going to be able to see that he’s going to be alright. But he’s going to be OK. It’s just I don’t know what the next few days or this week look like. We’ll know more probably by Wednesday.”
On Arizona’s depth at the guard/wing position: “We’re running out of players if you want my honest answer. We just are. We don’t have any guards. So, part of us in the second half, we did the best that we could. We tried to play the smartest that we could. Because James (Akinjo) and Terrell (Brown Jr.), as they both had three fouls, if we would have lost either one of those guys, we would have had players in the game that have never ever been in a game like that basically to finish it off. So we didn’t push the ball on misses. We tried to run the clock and then when you have a couple turnovers, when they can get hot from three which we know they can, and then you go to the line a couple of times and you don’t make them, the game starts to feel funny. But for the most part, we did what we needed to in the second half. And for a large portion of the first half, we played very, very good basketball, both on offense and on defense.”
On what Miller liked about the opening minutes of the game: “We were ready to play. Sometimes you can really be ready to play and that doesn’t mean you’re going to be off to a great start. I think we were up 8- or 10-0, but you could feel it. All five of our starters were engaged. We were in the right position defensively. On offense I thought we played with a real good pace, shared the ball, and guys were very, very confident. It’s kind of interesting in that we only shot six 3-point shots. I really don’t think we passed a whole lot up. It was kind of how the game was and we took what they gave us. Other than the 17 turnovers, which we got shook there for about a four-minute stretch there late in the game, that would be the one thing that I wish we could have done a little bit better. But anytime that you play a team like them twice in five days... it’s really challenging. You’re kind of on that same scouting report for about 10 straight days, and especially the way the game was in Tempe, on the heels of that to come right back and play them again, it was a difficult task. I’m really, really proud of our guys for being ready, and then being able to gut it out and play the way we did in the second half without Benn.”
On Brown Jr.’s success offensively in recent weeks: “I mentioned it before, Terrell averaged 21 points a game last year at Seattle. I think the Pac-12 and playing at Arizona represents different challenges for him, but he’s capable of scoring and doing more, especially as he’s been given more of an opportunity. We’ve talked to him when Jemarl (Baker Jr.) suffered his season-ending injury, that he could continue to be the distributor, he could continue to be a guy who really is unselfish, but we need some scoring from him, and he’s really risen to the challenge.”
On Akinjo’s performance Monday: “James was outstanding. The fact that he played 37 minutes and had one turnover and six assists, he’s so good with the ball in his hands. He had two people on him trapping him, picking him up full court, and for him to play that 37 minutes with only one turnover and use the energy that he did. I thought he was really good on defense as well, both him and Terrell. I think James is learning that as a point guard and as a guard, there’s just so many different ways you can help win the game. The other night he had a big night scoring. Tonight, he had a big night playmaking. He’s our heart and soul, believes in himself. We obviously believe in him, and his confidence is contagious. His teammates feel that confidence from him when he’s out there.”
On Mathurin testing his ankle after halftime: “Standard operating procedure is he got his X-ray I believe at halftime. But we’re not going to put him at risk. I don’t think that we felt it would be in his best interest to go. The fact that he was able to not play will help him recover. Tomorrow, and Wednesday will be big days for him and then we’ll see where he’s at. His sprain isn’t severe. I don’t know, grade one grade two, where he’s at, but there’s not a lot of swelling which is good. So I think that he should be able to get his range of motion mobility back.”
On how Mathurin’s injury compares to the sprain Jordan Brown suffered at ASU last week: “Jordan Brown had a similar injury at Arizona State I think around the six-minute mark of the game. And Jordan didn’t really practice, but he really worked around the clock the last couple of days to get ready for tonight’s game and I really credit Jordan. He helped us tonight. By the fact that he was able to play, I think that will really help him recover even more the next couple of days and hopefully be closer to 100% against Stanford.”
On Kerr Kriisa’s availability: “The good news is Kerr Kriisa will be back with us eligible to play in games when we go to Utah and Colorado. I believe that he’ll get cleared. He’s able to do non-contact right now with his concussion, but he’s very, very close if not even tomorrow where he’ll be clear to reestablish himself and practice. We need to get him to practice a few times so he can be the most ready he can be, but he comes to us at a very, very good time.”
On handling ASU’s up-tempo style: “Arizona State plays the fastest tempo in the Pac-12. It’s a fast pace, and there’s a lot of quick, early shots. They have a lot of firepower. Each of their guards is capable of making quick moves and creating their own shots, creating shots for their teammates, and they’re great in the open court. So when you’re in that type of game, for us, we want to play fast as well, but I think that our tempo isn’t nearly that fast, and we want to make sure that we take good ones if they’re quick. Sometimes we want to utilize our low post game to be balanced. That’s how you get to the free throw line, and that’s one thing about tonight. I know we shot 43 free throws. A lot of it was like the last 10 minutes of the game, but we were able to get to the free throw line throughout the game and that’s a big part of being a good offensive team.”
On how Miller would characterize the team’s play since losing to UCLA and USC: “If you remember in those two games, and it’s hard to say because we try to win every game and there’s high expectations here rightfully so and we’re used to winning at home, but in both of those games, USC and UCLA, we had some really good moments. What was hard is the USC game, we just had one of those nights between James and Jemarl shooting, I think they were 1 for 16 from the field. Look, it’s hard to win in the Pac-12 if your backcourt goes 1 for 16, but all things considered, we still did some pretty good things. What we didn’t do is defend them. When we went to UCLA, now you’re playing with Jemarl. It’s so hard because he got hurt in the first two minutes of that game. So when it happens in the game, there’s only so many things you can do. You don’t have an opportunity to practice for two hours and then, ‘okay now we want to play.’ You have to just play it out, and all things considered, again, we were in the game, we were there. We just weren’t able to get the big stop, and I thought our defense let us down really in both of those games. So we got organized, and I thought we played a complete game at Oregon State.
“I think since then we’re improving, and it makes sense that we’re improving because some of the players that we’re playing are really young, and the more they practice and the more game experience they get, I think the more consistent they are. Azuolas (Tubelis) is a great example. If you judge him by the way he played at Arizona State and you judge him, same player five days later playing at home, he was so much more sure of himself. He knew what to expect, the fast frenetic pace. I think that he just needed to play a game like that so that he could be a little bit more comfortable and he was, and in the first half, he was terrific. So we’re working and I’ve said this as well. Judging our team on just how we practice, how our team shows up every day, we’ve got a really consistent group. And when you’re working hard every day, you have a way of continuing to improve.”