The Arizona Wildcats overcame a 17-point first half deficit but ultimately fell just short Saturday night, losing to the Colorado Buffaloes 82-79 in Boulder. The loss moves Arizona to 13-6 on the year and 7-6 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 tough road loss.
On the team’s overall performance Saturday: “I think our entire team played a great game. Obviously we were down 19-2 and I think a lot of that had to do with Colorado came out playing with a lot of energy, a lot of physicality. They’ve had a week to kind of sit and wait on us and they were ready. But when you’re down 19-2 on the road and you’re coming off of maybe our worst overall performance of the year, and I don’t say that in any disrespect towards Utah. Utah, they beat us, but we just went quietly away the other night, and it was disappointing. That really hasn’t been the personality of our team this year. But tonight, win or lose, I couldn’t be happier or prouder of a group of guys.
“Again down 19-2, we were right there to win the game. Now we made a couple poor decisions maybe at the end, but again, you have to remember the inexperience. It’s just having so many younger guys out there in this crucial period of time. The foul when the ball is out of bounds quarter court game tied, if you’re going to foul you want to foul on a last second shot. Then we ran in the play before that, defensively, when we gave them a game-tying three. At that point you have to recognize up three, stay at home, and I wish I would have done a better job in the timeout and just explaining that before we went out there. But when you give those errors, you make those errors, Colorado still has to make the plays and they made the free throws, they made the threes, and they’re a good team. They really are. We lost to an excellent team on the road here in February. But that’s, that’s how we play. I thought that was in some segments maybe the best overall basketball we’ve played this year. And unfortunately when you dig yourself a 19-2 hole, you do have something to overcome. But I’m proud of our guys.”
On what Arizona needs to improve on to win this type of game going forward: “Just being really consistent for all 40 minutes. I’d say the first eight to 10 minutes of the first half obviously heavily favored Colorado. It would be beneficial obviously to us to play the way we play from that 10-minute mark of the first half all the way to the final buzzer. But there’s no denying our effort level, there is no denying our togetherness. There was no denying our offensive play, or our defensive play. I thought we executed and played with a tremendous effort. Look, we have some holes. We’re not a perfect team and our defense, again, a couple times in the last four minutes, last six minutes, if we were able to get a defensive stop, create a turnover, play the possession without fouling, we leave here with a great victory. But we weren’t really able to do that. And then we had a couple of things on offense, could have been a foul, could have been an and one. The referees did a good job from start to finish. It was a physical game. They recognized it, and they ref’d a fine game. But you always think about that one play: was that a foul, was that not a foul? And we were right there. Could have won the game but didn’t.”
On why Miller isn’t disappointed with the loss: “You win as a team and you lose as a team. We were 18 of 23 from the foul line, and we did a good job making quite a few. James Akinjo went eight for eight from the line. Obviously we got there. Same thing with three-point shooting. At the end of the night, seven for 17 is a pretty good percentage. Unfortunately, when you play Colorado, they are so efficient from the three-point line. There was a time in the first half where they were just making kind of one-on-one threes. Not threes off of an action but just shooting with great confidence and making them. They made 12 threes against us at home, and they made 11 threes on the road, and both games were hard fought. We won the game at home but didn’t have quite enough to finish this one. But in no way are we or am I disappointed. You get into February and you come up here on this trip, losing the way we did to Colorado? Look, we will try to win every game, but there’s a lot of valuable lessons we can pull from it. There’s a lot of confidence you can gain from it. And like I mentioned some of our errors or maybe mistakes down the stretch, because of who’s in the game, it’s a learning opportunity, so that the next time they won’t make that mistake.”
On Arizona’s preparation entering Saturday’s game: “Our guys really responded. We had good practice. We had a couple really tough film sessions. We had a big meeting. I think we really started to drill down on roles: what is your role on our team? What is your role as part of our program? We have so many new faces. So, February represents a different challenge. There’s a lot of teams playing for a lot. Colorado is an example. So is Utah, and I didn’t think we were quite ready for that on Thursday. We were much more ready for that on Saturday. When you play two games in three days and the team you play on game two hasn’t played a game all week, that in no way in my mind is that to our advantage. So, I also thought we really did a good job with those odds against us as well. McKinley Wright, we played against him a lot over four years. He’s one of the top players in college basketball. Colorado came out of the gates really ready to play. And they’re a good, good basketball team. But I liked our effort. I wish we could have left with a win, but I’d much rather get on a plane with the team that we have today than we were on Thursday. Thursday almost needed to happen for us to maybe be better tonight.”
On the team’s resiliency: “Every season has its ebb and flow. One of the keys to our team is we’ve been a very consistent group. We’ve not been shut down because of Covid. I hope I don’t jinx our team. We can have a problem as soon as this evening or tomorrow. But you got to give us credit. We’ve been at this for a long time. Our guys have really done a great job. Maybe we’ve been fortunate. But, the the protocols that we’ve had in place, we’ve done that well. We’ve practiced hard. We’re certainly not a perfect group. Very inexperienced. Have a lot of new faces, but we’ve played together. We’ve played hard. We’ve played some very good basketball this year.”
On what changed between Thursday and Saturday: “The Utah game entered a different phase for us. And although in some other games maybe we weren’t able to finish as well, we came unglued against Utah. And it was good to see us repaired. Looking at two of our freshmen: Azuolas (Tubelis), he was seven for 11 from the floor. He had 18 points, and he didn’t rebound the ball like he usually does, but he played at a pretty high level for freshmen and a game like tonight. And then Benn (Mathurin), he responded. Seven for nine from the field, for four for five from three. 22 points. He did a good job. I think he took some ownership of some things that we really challenged him, and he responded. When those two guys play that way, we’re a much, much better team, and hopefully we can continue it moving forward.”
On why Arizona struggled in the opening eight minutes of the first half: “I credit Colorado. They’re physical, they’re older, they’re together, experienced. They also are coming off of a very tough loss in their last outing a week ago against Utah. Surely they had a spirited week of practice, and they came out playing. They made threes. They were physical. They took us out of it. And one thing that happened during that stretch is they fouled us a lot. And then we got the benefits of those fouls really the last 10 minutes in the first half. That was a big story of the game. Some of the fouls that they committed we took the ball out of bounds. But eventually, when you foul, that works against your team and that’s happened to us quite a bit this year. But we were the beneficiary of their fouls. We were ready to play. Maybe we didn’t play our best early, but I tell you what, the last 24-26 minutes, I thought we played very hard, together, and well.”
On Kerr Kriisa’s presence: “I also want to credit Kerr Kriisa. You can see he has a spirit to him. He’s against the odds right now in that he’s just starting his career when everybody is about 75% into the season so I thought he made a big difference. We were able to rest James. We were able to rest Terrell (Brown Jr.). You saw Kerr made the three, drew another charge. He’s a tough kid. He reminds me a lot of TJ McConnell, and it’s nice to have him out there, it really is. I wish we would have had him all year but we’re glad to have him now. He’s a tough kid. We knew that about him. He practices with us all the time. He’s only going to get better with more game experience.”
On what Miller was looking for on the final possession where Brown Jr. was fouled: “We really had a clear outset for James but the court was spread and they just denied him at 40 feet. So, you deny him that high out on court, it really allowed Terrell to get a good straight line drive. He did what he was supposed to and great drive, got a foul. Wasn’t able to convert both free throws, but that was a good play. You always want to get a hard drive and have a chance to win it. Back at Stanford, when they called a charge on that play, that that call could have gone either way. Same type of game. You win a hard-fought game on the road, but again, like Stanford, which was a long, long time ago, we might have gotten off to a slower start but really rallied and played together. And tonight we did the same thing.”
On Mathurin’s attitude adjustment entering Saturday: “There’s nobody that can play well as a college basketball player if your mind’s not right, or if you’re not thinking about the right things. In fairness to Benn, he’s 18 years old and this is a huge adjustment and challenge. He’s somebody that scored 31 points in a Pac-12 game. He’s starting at Arizona and whether you’re a freshman at 18, or you’re a senior, there’s some responsibility that goes with that, that it’s not always going to go your way, you’re not always going to have a big night, but your team needs you to be a great teammate. You have to be a good defensive player, offensive player, and really over the last two weeks, Benn’s also been simultaneously battling an ankle injury that hasn’t allowed him to practice. And then the Stanford game, he wasn’t nearly 100%. So we’ve worked with him in that capacity as well. But he wasn’t who I believe he really is against Utah. It was good for him to have those talks. Yes, he has had two or three really hard talks with me. But it’s not to hurt his feelings, it’s to develop him, to teach him, to get him right, to prepare him for things to come. This road as an athlete at this level is not always going to be smooth and hopefully it’s a lesson he learned on this trip. He certainly responded well tonight. I thought he played an excellent game.”