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What Sean Miller said about Arizona’s win over Oregon State and the new starting lineup

NCAA Basketball: Grambling State at Arizona Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats got back in the win column Thursday night with a 70-61 home victory over the Oregon State Beavers. The win moves Arizona to 14-6 including 8-6 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 victory:

Sean Miller post Oregon State

Hear what Sean Miller said after Arizona's 70-61 win over Oregon State

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Thursday, February 11, 2021

On why Miller swapped Kerr Kriisa for Terrell Brown Jr. in the starting lineup: “I would say coming off of the Mountain trip, defense is really a priority for us, trying to improve it. And I thought Kerr (Kriisa) with his energy and his ability to take charges and take pride in that area, why not give him an opportunity here early on? That’s not really to the detriment of Terrell (Brown Jr). It’s just every once in a while I think, we have a team like ours, to shake up the lineup. It keeps everybody on their toes and I think backs up me and our staff really just trying to become a more united, just all together better defensive group. That was the reason why By the minutes that were given Terrell did a really good job. He played 29 minutes and Kerr played almost 20. I’m glad we have Kerr, but I thought Terrell Brown did a really good job tonight. He made some key plays, he had seven defensive rebounds, which is certainly not easy for a guard, but we needed every one of those tonight.”

On what circumstances led Miller to make the starting lineup change: “It’s unusual for me. But this is a different team. It has nothing to do with our endpoint this year. It has a lot to do with just we have so many new faces, there are times when you look out there tonight and you have Kerr, Benn (Mathurin), Dalen (Terry) and Azuolas (Tubelis) in the game. Those are four freshmen. And I know we’ve played quite a few freshmen over the years, but the other guys, it’s not like they’ve been three-year starters on the court with them. So I think just because of that, it’s kind of like a puzzle, trying to keep our energy up, trying to keep us hungry, playing hard. Playing maybe our best here in the month of February. That’s our task, so we’re really trying everything to get there.”

On Arizona’s energy level Thursday night: “We were ready to play. Oregon State, you have to give them a lot of credit. They are a very hard playing physical group. Wayne Tinkle and his staff, they just do a great job of making the game hard and physical. When you think of those two words, rebounding right? Offensive rebounding, defensive rebounding, physical close to the basket and you have to play through it. You have to play through that contact. You can’t get frustrated and in reality you have to be able to get to the free throw line and convert. Tonight we certainly got there. There are times when we’ve converted. Maybe, maybe not as well as we would have liked, but you shoot 34 free throws, tonight we earned our way there.”

On Arizona’s defense, which held OSU to 38 percent shooting: “For the first time in a while, especially in the second half, we played much better defense without fouling. And I think our playing man to man, playing our defense without fouling, and them fouling us was really the big difference in the game. It wasn’t always pretty. I told our guys in the locker room, there were some plays tonight that you put in that category of just things you don’t oftentimes see in sports. And we might have had four or five of those in one game. Taking the ball out of bounds and throwing it to the other team, letting them score, having a steal in our hands, literally two points waiting and somehow it bounced off our hands to them and they scored it. It just seemed like there’s just so many types of plays that the disarmed us from really having a better overall night. We missed maybe five layups. Not inside shots, not contested, I mean layups. When you do that, it doesn’t feel good, but to our team’s credit, we kept playing, played all the way to the end and finished but again, I give Wayne Tinkle and his staff a lot of credit. They play the game very, very hard. They play to win and if you follow them, there’s a reason they’re in every game, and there’s a reason they’ve had a really good stretch of wins here over the last month. They’re a tough team to play against.”

On the significance of Arizona’s 17 second chance points: “It’s so important because that’s part of our team’s identity. That’s one of our strengths, and playing Oregon State especially, you have to rebound like that. And we did it twice. We did a really good job in Corvallis rebounding against them. And we did it here tonight. We got in foul trouble. Azuolas only played 20 minutes. We missed him out there. But in those 20 minutes he had 10 rebounds, which I think is a real testament to him. Five of those were on the offensive end.”

On what makes Benn Mathurin such a special shooter: “Well, Benn has the gift of size when he shoots. He’s six-five, and he has a really compact shot. In other words, it doesn’t take a lot of time for him to catch and shoot. And he just seems to take good ones. A good shot for him he really can see over the defense. Like a lot of really good shooters and you guys have seen quite a few over the decades here at Arizona, the ones that seem to be in in their own category, they just can kind of rise over the defense and shoot it. Salim Stoudamire, maybe he wasn’t like that because he’s not as tall, but I think Salim had that range and that quick release that almost allowed him to get it off that. Benn’s size and compact shooting really allows him to get it off. The other part I’ll tell you about Benn, he doesn’t take bad shots. So much of a shooting percentage is taking good shots, and we have to do a good job of finding him. Because when we do, he knocks them in.”

On the improvement of Arizona’s freshmen: “He’s our team’s most improved player. In those first weeks, he was just young guy, just figuring out where he was on the court. And he’s much more sure of himself. Dalen Terry and Benn, they don’t miss practice. They show up. They work hard, They’re eager to learn. A lot of times those guys are in the gym early in the morning shooting. They really work at it, and that’s really to their advantage. I thought Dalen had some really good moments in tonight’s game. He had eight rebounds in a very physical game. I wish he would have shot the ball from the right corner. He had it and for whatever reason he passed it up and he ended up getting a turnover. I thought he got to the rim a couple times off the dribble. We want him to play with confidence. He’s been a big part of really every game we’ve played. Down the stretch of his freshman year, I hope he can really put it together.”

On Arizona’s ability to close out OSU in the final minutes: “Oregon State loves to finish games with a 1-3-1, and they use that as their comeback game. They’ve had great success over the years doing it. We prepare for it. Maybe at the very beginning, a couple possessions there late, we weren’t in the right place. It’s different. We didn’t maybe attack it like we needed to but once we got through those first couple of possessions, our guards did a good job. We found Benn a couple times. He had a great baseline drive and a three pointer. And we found Christian (Koloko) I think right in the front of the rim for a dunk. So, it was good to see us handle that.”

On Tubelis gaining confidence: “Yeah, he’s adjusted to the physicality and speed of the game. And, again, looking at where he started in October or early November, he’s really gained a lot of great experience and he’s worked hard. He’s one of the best freshmen in our league. I think we have two or three of those guys, and Kerr and Dalen are very good freshmen as well.”

On what Oregon State did well at Thursday: “I want to credit Oregon State. They’re not an easy team to play against. They really muddy the game up. I mean that in a complimentary way. They play hard. (Abdul) Alatishe is really unique player. He leads our league in offensive rebounding and he’s about as quick of a jumper as I’ve seen. Just very unique He had a good game tonight 10 points, six rebounds. Ethan Thompson, Benn was 13 years old when Ethan Thompson went to Oregon State. Ethan Thompson has been around. He’s played in a lot of Pac 12 games and here in February of his senior year, he’s having an outstanding season. Again, you have a six-six point guard who is a four year starter, it’s not always an easy task. James Akinjo really met the challenge midway through the second half of defending him. Though James isn’t as big, I thought his defense on Ethan for a stretch of the second half really changed the game.”

On Arizona’s advantage at the free throw line: “We got the ball close to the basket constantly. We got it there on offensive rebounding. We got it there on our transition game off of Oregon State’s missed shots or turnovers. We got the ball to the rim on set plays, drives, post ups. And they fouled us. We’re a physical team. We shoot more free throws than everybody in the Pac-12 and maybe everybody in college basketball. If you think about that, if there’s 350 plus teams in the country and we shoot the most free throws, I think we’re doing something right there on offense. Got to convert him though. We left some points on the court tonight. Missing front ends of a one-and-one, not shooting the percentage we’re capable of, if we would have done that, we would have had a bigger margin of victory.”

On whether Arizona has improved at not picking up offensive fouls: “Well, what I referred to in December was, we had quite a few offensive fouls which also are turnovers. We almost two or three screens on offense. Sometimes it was on the ball, sometimes it was off the ball, where we got called for an illegal screen. That’s not only a personal foul but that’s a turnover. Driving, leaving our feet off one leg… college basketball I’m not complaining, but the block charge is a big, big part of college basketball and this year we’re not as adept at taking the charge. Teams like to take the charge on us. We had two or three of them tonight, where called us on the offensive foul. So, I was referring to that. Not complaining about the officiating as much as adjusting, and if you’ve watched us, we don’t turn the ball over or get called for those offensive fouls as much as we once did. And that helps us but we did a good job of not fouling them tonight, especially in the second half. That’s a big reason we won.”

On Ira Lee’s status heading into Saturday: “He hurt his ankle in yesterday’s practice. Ira is a pretty tough kid. He couldn’t really do much on it today. So, twofold. A, making sure that we rested him so he can recover, and if there is a chance that he would be available on Saturday, not doing anything today maybe gives him that chance. But I don’t know his status yet.”