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What Sean Miller said about Arizona’s loss to UCLA and UA’s ‘horrible’ defense

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UCLA v Arizona Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images,

The Arizona Wildcats were overwhelmed by UCLA in a 81-76 loss Saturday night. The defeat moves Arizona to 9-3 on the season including 3-3 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.

Sean Miller post UCLA

Sean Miller blasted Arizona's defense after the 81-76 loss to UCLA

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Saturday, January 9, 2021

On Arizona’s defensive struggles: “We are a horrible defensive team. We played against two very good teams, but that’s who you judge yourself by, right? You judge yourself by programs and teams like UCLA and USC. And unfortunately for us, we had a lot of great moments on offense. This team has learned how to score. We can do it inside, we can do it off the dribble. We have guys coming in off the bench that are scoring for us. And we’re not turning the ball over. I think this is five or six games in a row where we’re playing with 10, 11 turnovers. Tonight, you play against UCLA and have nine turnovers, that’s a heck of a thing. But we can’t get the value out of that because we just have no answer on defense. Straight line drives, in and around the basket, and just the fouling is just off the charts right now. We have a saying: ‘undisciplined teams or players are coached by an undisciplined coach’, and fouling is discipline. Sometimes it might be you’re outmatched or outmanned, but for the most part if you have a problem as a team fouling, that’s something that we or I have to correct. UCLA tonight got to the line 32 times, they converted 27.

“When we played USC, they had 11 points in the first half from the line, they were in the bonus, maybe the double bonus about eight minutes in, and we got a couple guys just absolutely hammering the other team. It’s not basketball. We have to adjust. Our players have to adjust. I and our staff have to do an even better job coaching and teaching them because fouling is a big part of the game of basketball, and we’re on the wrong end of that right now.”

On James Akinjo’s 25 points and eight assists: “James Akinjo didn’t have a good night against USC and one of the things that you’re always anxious to see on on a player is, how do they bounce back? How do they respond? James and I had a meeting and I think there’s some things that he really learned in the USC game. If you’re the engine that makes the team go, you can be a really good engine, and you can be a broken down engine, right? You’re still the engine. And I think that in USC game he might have let some of his shots that didn’t go down affect other parts of his game, and we’re not nearly as good when he’s not that type of player for us. Tonight, he was great. 25 points, eight assists, one turnover. I don’t think we could have asked much more from him.”

On Bennedict Mathurin, who had eight points and four rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench: “I thought Benn Mathurin really did a good job as well. Azuolas (Tubelis) is going to be steady from this point forward, but Benn, I think he’s a guy that now that we’ve played the games that we’ve played, we got to give him a bigger role, we have to get him in there more. And from a defensive perspective, he’s going to make plenty of mistakes, but being that he’s 18 years old and a freshman, I have great faith that two weeks, four weeks from now, there’s some things that Benn’s going to be better at than he is now because he’s so young.”

On whether the fouling issues are uncharacteristic: “I think our defense has slipped but our competition is higher right now. You learn a lot about your team when you play players like the Mobley brothers and tonight you have UCLA that has a guy in every position who’s a threat. Obviously both teams are well coached. I have a lot of respect for Mick (Cronin) and he does a great job with his guys and tonight we just didn’t have an answer for them offensively. They’re one of America’s best offensive teams. So you really learn a lot about your deficiencies when you play against a team like that. We just have no answer. We went to a zone, and it’s like, ‘hey coach, why don’t you play zone?’ We did. And we gave up four second shots on three possessions. It’s hard to rebound out of a zone defense, and especially against a physical player like Cody Riley. So, our rebounding left us, the drives we had a hard time with, and I credit Tyger Campbell too because part of our game plan, especially in the first half, was to not let him distribute and make him score more. And a really terrific player like him, that’s what he did. He said you if you’re gonna give me this, I’m gonna take it, and I thought he was great. As good as James was on our end, he really negated James because he was great on UCLA’s end.”

On whether the fouls came out of Arizona’s players being beaten to position: “I think it’s throughout. We have to be smarter. When the ball is in and around the basket, you have to show your hands. The way you’re physical is by moving your feet and really using kind of like your chest, right? So that the guy has to go through your body but you don’t come down on him at all. Look, we have a couple guys playing nine minutes. You play nine minutes, have four fouls, that’s a problem. The game’s too fast for you. I think that just us coaching it, teaching it, talking about it. Some of it is look, we have a lot of new guys and I wish we’ve been through the race. If you’ve been through these times with a team before, you get through it to the end of the year, the next year, the two years out, and you have guys that are in your program, they kind of know what to do. I really wouldn’t put anybody on our team in that category. We found by giving up second shots, especially when we went zone. Had a hard time guarding dribble penetration, one on one. Some of our fouls are undisciplined and then some of them are on offensive rebounds, and I’m confused. It all depends on what night we’re playing what’s an offensive rebound foul and what isn’t, I don’t know what that is out here. I don’t. But that’s a story for another day. The things that we can correct, we have to correct because our defense is our problem.”

On what Miller learned from this week whether this is the most frustrated he has been with a defense in a long time: “We can’t defend. We really struggle. I wouldn’t use the word frustrated. Every team presents its problems, but tonight and USC and really if you look closely at Washington State, we kind of willed that out. We were in that same type of game here tonight, but the difference is we couldn’t make the plays: the big rebound, the big stop. If you get a couple stops down the homestretch, you’re playing to win, like the next shot puts you up two. But we never could quite put ourselves in that position because when we needed to stop, the possession usually ended in a foul. A foul.”

On Azuolas Tubelis’ performance: “I thought he had a couple pretty good looks down the stretch. they didn’t go down. We got him the ball a couple times deep. He had a couple moves in and around the rim there, just the ball didn’t go in for him. Look, when you have a low post guy, you have a forward, the narrative is always well, ‘he had 15 in the first half, but he only scored four in the second. You guys got to do a better job getting him the ball.’ And game doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t work that way. I can make the case that he made some tough shots in the first half. We get the ball to the players that need to score. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But I judge the game by, Azuolas got 12 shots and three free throw attempts. He had three second shots. He had 15 and eight, so he had a good night. Maybe if a couple more go down, he has 20 and eight but we weren’t able to get him to the line. I thought a couple times we were close to getting him to the line.”

On whether Miller is aware of the Covid-19 related pause at Oregon State, Arizona’s next opponent: “We’re just operating as if we’re going to play the game and go on the trip. We got a couple of days to recover from this week. Got to get back to work and make our team better on defense. As you guys know things could change on our end, I hope not, but it’s just in the year that we’re in. Things can happen really at any moment so we’re going to continue to do the best that we can and get ready for the schedule that that we’re anticipating playing.”