Double figure scoring nights from James Akinjo and Bennedict Mathurin led Arizona to a 69-53 home victory over Washington State Thursday. The win moves the Wildcats to 16-8 and 10-8 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 second to last home game of the 2020-21 season.
On Terrell Brown’s performance: “Terrell Brown had an outstanding game. I didn’t even realize he had eight assists and only one turnover. Most importantly, he played 35 minutes. His four block shots and one steal, he really embraces the defensive side of the ball. I think he guarded Noah Williams more than any other guard that we had, and I thought he did a really good job against an excellent player, making the game hard. Terrell is unselfish, he’s smart, he’s experienced, and all those characteristics really permeate throughout our team. With as many new players and young guys as we have, he’s a steadying force. And he did a great job tonight.”
On Benn Mathurin and Dalen Terry’s contributions: “I also thought Benn Mathurin really responded. Coming off of LA, it might have taken him a little bit of time to get his confidence going. But once he did, playing 36 minutes having 14 points, the two three point shots he made late in the game were big shots to kind of put Washington State away. And I also thought he played good defense. Benn’s defense got better as the game wore on. I can say same thing about Dalen Terry. Dalen coming off the USC game, we wanted him to go and be a good player again, bounce off of that game and do it again. And tonight, when we went small, that helped us on defense. It was great to see him get out in transition and he had a big dunk. But really those three guys in Kerr’s (Kriisa) place helped us get the win.”
On Terrell Brown as a role model for younger teammates: “Terrell is just a steadying force. He’s the same every day. He’s been through a lot. He’s experienced and he knows the deal in terms of how hard it is to win and the grind of practices, the ups and downs of winning and losing. And he’s just really been a godsend for us. He’s not only played very good basketball for our team, but in addition to that he’s given us the leadership qualities, the good teammate, who he is off the court, like Dalen mentioned, all of those things really add up to helping you win as a group. And tonight’s a great example. I didn’t really have to sit down and talk to Terrell a lot about taking him out of the lineup. He understood, he embraced his role. We talked about him playing about the same amount. And that’s really what he’s done. So I’m anxious for him to finish up here in McKale and do a good job, like all of our guys here on Saturday.”
On the team’s defensive outing: “We played this great effort. Our defense improved as the game wore on. We went small. Playing Dalen with three guards, I thought that helped. The disappointing part about tonight’s game, and we knew this coming in, Washington State is a very, very good offensive rebounding team. And they put 16 on us. And obviously, they missed a lot of shots, but 16 second shots and they got fouled and scored on a number of them, their young, big guys are very good players. Their future is bright. We respect them a great deal. I was really worried about this game. Washington State is that team that if you’re not ready to play, they’re gonna beat you, because they seem to always be ready. And that’s a great compliment. So we hung in there. There are times when our offense, I know didn’t maybe look as smooth, but a big reason is Washington State is also an excellent defensive team. So you have to play through those periods of time. I was happy with our defensive effort. If we would have done a better job keeping them off the offensive glass clearly it would have been our best defense of the year.”
On Kriisa’s groin injury: “It happened late in practice. I think that with that type of injury, if he would have pushed through here tonight, he basically would have just steadily deteriorated and wouldn’t have had an opportunity to increase. So he’s been able to take a couple days off. We’ll be smart tomorrow with him as well. And we’re optimistic and hopeful that he’ll rejoin us on Saturday. We need him. It’s too much to ask to only play three guards or four guards. You need Kerr available. And as you guys know, Kerr has become a really big part of what we’re doing. So we got to get him back in there.”
On Arizona playing good team basketball Thursday: “I think we have a collection of good players. It’s not just one or two guys that do the scoring for us. We’re balanced. And we have a lot of younger guys that can make plays. If you think about tonight’s game, Azuolas (Tubelis) had a very deceptive nine (points) and nine (rebounds). He almost had a double double. I didn’t think this was one of his best games. But, nine and nine is a pretty good night. Dalen Terry, we talked about all the different things Dalen did. And Benn had 14 points. Terrell eight assists, one turnover. And James (Akinjo), he’s the given. He had 19 points, maybe a few more turnovers. But again, Washington State is a difficult team to score on. And I think some of those turnovers, you have to give credit, tip your hat to the defense.”
On whether Miller thought Arizona’s defense wore WSU in the second half: “I do. I do. We closed out on their three point shooters. I know I’ve mentioned it, but what’s the one thing they did a great job of? They killed us on the glass. They got 16 second shots, and they converted a number of them. We fouled them on some others. We got to do a better job in that area.
On hearing the team is having fun down the stretch: “That’s great for to hear them say that. “We’ve been through a lot. If you think about it, we truly are that team that is playing for each other. You hear coaches sometimes give that analogy, but that’s what we’re playing for. Nothing else. And we want to finish our season strong. Whether it’s the Covid protocols, the consistent practices, being able to handle a couple of really tough losses, Oregon at home or at Colorado, our guys have bounced back. And we want to play our best down the stretch here. We have two games left and it’s been some time since we had home sweep. I can’t believe I just said that, but that’s something we have to repair. And that’s why Saturday’s game is so big, it gives us that chance to do it.”
On succeeding through a gritty style of game: “Well, we talked to our team about that after the game. And during the long course of a season, you have to win games in different ways. Sometimes your offense is not clicking and sometimes you just have a miserable night from the free throw line. Unfortunately, and this has happened to us, sometimes you have to overcome your defense or fouling or just guys not getting it done on that end. But tonight’s game, it was a battle. It was a physical battle. Credit Washington State for how hard they play. And we had to play through some tough moments. And we did. I thought we did a good job on Noah Williams. give Terrell Brown a lot of credit as an individual defender in that area. But Washington State is a tough-minded group, and their future’s bright. They’re really going to be a good team here next year. Really, really good.”
On how Miller will approach the lineup for senior day: “We’re gonna start Ira (Lee) on senior day. The ceremony we’re going to have is going to be identical to the one we had a year ago before the game. But unfortunately, the parents and the families won’t be able to join our players on the court because of Covid. But they are invited to the game and each of our seniors has four tickets. I hope they’ll be here. We’re gonna kind of send those guys off I hope with a good performance. Ironically, Washington was our last game a year ago. And we have to do a better job this year than we did a year ago.”
On whether Miller has previously given a senior a start for senior day: “I think so. I’ve coached a lot more teams now than I once did. So I don’t know if I can necessarily tell you when I’ve done it, but what we always try to do is get them in the game. But in this case, I think Ira deserves to start and he’ll start for us. I’m not sure who the lineup will be but he’ll be in.”