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What Sean Miller said after Arizona’s double-digit loss at Utah

arizona-wildcats-sean-miller-podcast-tommy-lloyd-tubelis-mathurin-terry-kriisa-koloko-comments Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats faltered on both sides of the ball in a 73-58 loss to Utah on Thursday night in Salt Lake City. The loss moves Arizona to 13-5 and 7-5 in Pac-12 play.

Below is what coach Sean Miller had to say about Arizona’s disappointing effort.

On Arizona’s defensive performance Thursday: “Through 18 games and however many we have remaining we’ve actually been a better offensive team than defense. We’ve incrementally recently, not by leaps and bounds, but I think we’ve been moving in a better direction, but we took a giant step backwards here tonight. Playing defense on the road, playing against a disciplined well-coached team. Utah had a ton of confidence coming off their road win against Colorado. And you know what? Utah has been in some really tough games this year, and they haven’t been the winner. They’ve lost a number of those close games. I thought they were highly motivated here tonight, playing at home, and they were organized, they were prepared, they were ready, and it kicked our butt. They were the better team. Sometimes you have to see it for that. But our defense was poor. It was.”

On Arizona’s lack of attention to detail: “Credit Utah for making our defense poor, but we struggled on offense. When you’re a good offensive team, and recently we’ve been playing some good offense, and all of a sudden the ball doesn’t go in, it doesn’t feel right. By the way, a big problem with our offense was Utah played very, very hard and physical on defense. But you can let your defense affect the offense affect your defense. Ball is not going in. Having turnovers. Next thing you know you’re picking and choosing your effort level and your consistency on the defensive end, and it’s just a matter of time before they break things open. I felt fortunate that we weren’t down by more in the first half. That fifth segment of the first half, so the last four minutes of the first half, was a disaster. We had loose balls that we didn’t dive on. Ira (Lee) went for the block shot. I don’t know if he really even needed to. And I think they beat us 9-1 going into halftime. Then coming out at halftime, they really did the same thing to us. From that point we were just playing uphill. I credit Utah. If our team isn’t a hard playing together group, we don’t have any room for error.”

On Benn Mathurin’s struggles: “Benn has to have a great attitude and has to play with a total effort towards winning the game, both on defense and offense. His body language has to be great, and he has to give us everything that he has. When he does that, he’s a very, very good player. But I didn’t like the way he played, and I thought it was a reflection of really our whole team. When somebody’s not locked in, when you have a couple guys going really, really hard but some others not, again, we don’t have that room for error, that luxury. We’re not going to walk out at the jump ball and overwhelm any team in the Pac-12. Right now in the month of February playing at Utah, Utah’s a good team, it’s playing with a lot of purpose and confidence. Like I said, they kicked our butt, but one thing that’s never going to change with me is if you don’t have great attitude, it’s going to be a really, really hard road. I didn’t like Benn’s attitude.”

On Kerr Kriisa’s debut: “He’s gonna give us everything. It was nice to have him out there. He deserved to be out there, and you could kind of see his spark a little bit. I’m glad we had him tonight. I’m not so sure if we didn’t have him with the predicament we were in if the score wouldn’t have been more lopsided. He helped us. He did some good things and he’ll continue to get more comfortable as the schedule moves forward.”

On Arizona’s preparation level: “If we’re not prepared for the game that’s on the head coach, right? So, I have to do a better job. I’ll make sure that I speak to the guys and make sure we get on the same page, and I’ll do a better job, at least try to do a better job — our staff and me — of preparing them for Colorado. We’ve got to work longer hours, go at it a little bit harder, communicate better, but that’s unacceptable. We have to do a better job so that our players feel prepared. If they don’t feel prepared, that’s 100% me, that’s on me.”

On Arizona’s difficulty matching up against Utah’s starting bigs: “Their starting big guys are very good players. If you remember a year ago they played a lot of minutes as true freshmen and I think they learned the ropes. Going through a regular season Pac-12 year and going through the six months, I must think that they did. I think that in both cases, they’ve grown, they’ve improved, they’re bigger, they’re stronger and, and they’re good players. They do it night in and night out. Tonight, I thought their bigs were very good. Riley Battin is another one of their bigs who’s different than their two starters. He can hurt you in different ways and he hurt us. He’s skilled. He can shoot the ball. Again, he’s now an upperclassman in his third Pac-12 season. They have a nice little rotation there and they have good players. I like their freshmen. I think they play well as a group. I thought their team was very, very prepared tonight. They were prepared for us with their defense. They were prepared with their attack against our defense, and we didn’t have many answers.”

On whether Utah is a different team than the staff saw on film: “No. They’ve played a lot of close games in our conference, and they’re right there. we still have a lot of basketball left, and Utah is one of many teams that can play their best in the month of February and really catch fire. I certainly think they have that type of team, and I was really impressed with how physical they were, how hard they played on defense. I thought their ball screen defense really made it difficult at times for us, especially in the first half. They forced turnovers and we struggled. We didn’t have a good night on offense. I think a lot of it was Utah. Utah deserves the credit in many ways for our struggles because they played a better game than us, and they took it to us. They really did. They beat us tonight.”

On whether the team may have struggled adjusting to Kriisa on the court: “Maybe. We didn’t play Benn as much, so it wasn’t as big of an issue, and then Dalen Terry got in foul trouble. He ended the game I think with four fouls. He had three fouls early. So I’m glad we had Kerr available and I think there Kerr was nothing but a bonus. The fact that we were able to rest Terrell Brown and James Akinjo, those guys need rest. We struggled. Look, we struggled to guard the dribble tonight. There are times this season when we’ve struggled with it, but we were overwhelmed tonight. Just one guy after another, just really struggling guarding the ball. Again that’s a credit to Utah’s ball movement and execution.”

On how Arizona can improve defensively: “We’re working right now. We worked really hard. Obviously we didn’t work hard enough if our guys didn’t think we were prepared, but I’ll make sure that we work a little bit harder and stay with it so that each of our players feel like they’re prepared for the game that they’re playing. Obviously that’s important. The last couple of days we’ve invested a ton of time, and it doesn’t always mean it’s going to show up on game night. The effort, the energy, the attitude. Not letting your offense affect that when you’re away from home and you’re playing against a team that’s very organized, very prepared like Utah was. You run into a game like tonight, they kicked our butt. I can’t say that enough. They were the better team. They beat us tonight.”