The Arizona Wildcats went cold down the stretch Thursday night, leading to a 73-64 home loss to the Stanford Cardinal. The defeat marks the first time Arizona has lost at McKale Center to Stanford since 2008.
With the loss, Arizona drops to 12-4 overall and 6-4 in Pac-12 play. Our recap from the game can be found here. Below is what coach Sean Miller had to say about Arizona’s disappointing performance.
On what was the most frustrating part of the loss: “Let me just give Stanford credit. They came in here and they beat us, they were the better team tonight. They were the harder playing team. I think they finished the game on a 21-7 run. Not too many times have we gone back out onto the court after the eight-minute media timeout up five points and that team beat us 21 to 7 in the last eight minutes of the game. Oscar da Silva is a terrific player and I know Stanford is missing a couple players, but I’m looking at them and I’m just watching them and I think the emergence of Jaiden Delaire and Oscar da Silva and the cohesiveness on defense and on offense, they may be playing their best basketball. I don’t know if a coach or a team has experienced more obstacles and adversity than Stanford. They’ve lived in a hotel, they haven’t practiced in Santa Clara County, and now just watching how they’ve handled it, they have a good basketball team. And they’re a team on both ends, and I really give Stanford all the credit in the world. They beat us.”
On where Arizona fell short Thursday: “On our end, I think there’s a couple parts to this. We’re worn down. I feared coming off of the two games we just played, playing three games in a week again for the second time since Christmas, it’s very very challenging to play three Pac-12 games in a week. And when you layer Ben (Mathurin’s) injury, I give Ben a lot of credit. There aren’t too many young players that I’ve seen that played the way he played but he didn’t practice. He did the best he could. I think our chances of winning were bigger having him, but we just made so many errors and there are a couple errors that he made just simply because he wasn’t able to get the reps the last couple of days. We broke down on our underneath out of bounds defense. We broke down on our assignments, and I think for about 30 minutes, we played as good a defense without fouling. Not that our defense was perfect, but they didn’t drive the ball and get fouls. But the last eight minutes it was just, drive, drive, drive, foul, foul, foul, and I’ve kind of seen that movie before when we’ve lost games this year. Our defense just abandons us. And that’s what happened in this game. From the eight minute mark on, we just had no ability to get a stop.”
On Arizona’s turnover problems: “We played pretty much the whole year in and around 10 to 12 turnovers. James (Akinjo) and Terrell (Brown Jr.) had nine between them. We had 18 turnovers. We had two or three turnovers in transition on a two on one. We were sloppy and we looked like a team that was hoping we could win, but we weren’t ready, locked in, prepared, where hey, ‘if we’re going to lose they’re going to beat us.’ We certainly cooperated down the stretch. I feared it because just the last couple of days, I think we just did the best that we could to go from the ASU game to getting ready for this game. And we just didn’t have that energy. We just didn’t.”
On what was off with Azuolas Tubelis’ game Thursday: “They were very physical, in a good way, but Azuolas just didn’t play well. He’s got to be ready. He’s got to be locked in, dialed in using fakes around the basket. Because of Stanford’s low post trapping and the way they play defense, there’s no big guy that plays against Stanford that’s going to have an easy night, and I thought that he got frustrated at times. And when you get frustrated and the game starts to become about how you’re doing, it’s too hard. Your defense goes, you foul, you miss shots and exactly what happened to him, that’s what happens. But Azuolas is a terrific talent. He’s one of our team’s best players. Tonight was definitely not his night, and we needed everybody tonight. We needed our team to be really good.”
On Mathurin’s performance against Stanford: “With Ben’s situation, he wasn’t able to practice. If I had to do it all over again I would do the exact same thing because we found out really in shoot around today and really in pregame warm ups he was going to be able to help us. And how much? He made a few shots. He also hurt us a couple times, but I really credit Ben. Our best bet was to play him in the role that we played him in, but we weren’t a functioning group, we weren’t smooth in any phase of the game. Turnovers, defense, scouting, execution, and when you’re playing against a team that I think is a really together group like Stanford, you’re not going to be successful.”
More on why Tubelis struggled Thursday: “You got to understand the team that he was playing against. I’ll go to UCLA as an example. Cody Riley is one of the best low post players in our conference. He’s a big, big factor for UCLA. When he played against them on Saturday, he had two points. It’s not easy to score as the big guy against Stanford. You have Oscar de Silva, excellent low post player. Lukas Kisunas, Jaiden Delaire, they’re very hard playing, well-disciplined. If you get frustrated by the number of shot opportunities or you feel like you’re open and you don’t get the ball, you got no chance. I felt like that’s how we played as a team tonight. And I thought Azuolas got frustrated. 1 for 9. We needed him to be better.”
On how fatigue and lack of depth may be catching up to the team: “There’s a lot of different players that played tonight and didn’t get the job done. 18 turnovers. James had six, Terrell had three. We had nine of our 18 turnovers from our back court. So, I credit Stanford, and I just never had a good feeling in the game. As a coach, sometimes you can be down but you’re seeing your guys are really locked in and staying with it, it was kind of like begging to get to the finish line. Like ‘come on, we got eight more minutes. Come on, we only got four more minutes left.’ You can’t do that. Some of it in all fairness to our team, we had a really hard fought game in Tempe on Thursday. We prepared hard, we had a tough game in which we played short handed in the second half on Monday. We’re playing Stanford on Thursday and got Cal on Saturday. If you get banged up, or you’re not on it or you’re not playing, you can really start to deteriorate wear down. Again, we wore down at the end. That’s a credit to Stanford, and certainly not a credit to us. As excited as I was for the guys on our team and really everybody involved with our program, how we really approached ASU, equally disappointed tonight not because we lost, but because of the things that contributed to the loss. We weren’t a together group. When it really got tough the last eight minutes, we just kind of went away. We didn’t take care of the ball, and there’s just so many details that you got to be alert with when you play Stanford. I’m not so sure we got very many of those right, and you felt it. They ran their system. Stanford’s a team that’s going to really execute, to their credit.”
On the approach preparing for Cal on Saturday: “The approach I tried to take the last couple of days is just being aware that our guys are up seven in the morning, getting Covid tested. They have academics. We weren’t sure Ben was going to be able to play. Jordan Brown’s playing but he’s on the other side of his ankle injury. Just watching James, he’s giving a lot of energy on offense with the ball in his hands, him and Terrell playing almost the entire game, just being aware of that and trying to take a perspective, allowing them to be as fresh as they can be. When you do that sometimes you don’t go over and over and over things that you really need to be crisp on when you get to the game. So, we’re in the same situation. It is going to be a challenge. The only difference is I think Cal, they’re playing right now so they’re playing tonight, we played tonight. It’s a little bit of the same for both teams, but playing this fourth game in 10 days like we’re going to in our current state, we really need everybody to be good. We need everybody to be sharp, and we’ve got to be very good with details. We weren’t tonight, and hopefully we can be better on Saturday, but we’re going to work at it to be ready.”