Miller's comments may provide the spark Arizona needed
If you follow Arizona basketball, by now you’ve heard or seen head coach Sean Miller’s “He touched the ball” press conference from after Friday’s loss to UCLA in the Pac-12 conference semifinals.
Miller said he and the Wildcats have moved on from the incident Sunday afternoon, although the Pac-12 bestowed a hefty $25,000 fine on Miller for confronting an official after the game and for acting “inappropriately” toward an MGM Grand Garden Arena staffer.
What did result from Miller’s fining and comments, however, might be a more energized and resilient Wildcat team that will awake from its 11-7 finish to the season after starting 14-0, just in time for the UA’s first round game against Belmont in Salt Lake City on Thursday.
“We all learn lessons as a coach,” Miller said Sunday. “I’ve never been more motivated to coach Arizona, our players and our great fans. I’m only worried about us.”
Kyle Wasson / Arizona Daily Wildcat Coach Sean Miller addresses his team's 6-seed placement into the 2012-13 NCAA Div-I Men's Basketball Championship on March 17.
It is interesting to point out, however, that in Cal’s win over USC on Feb. 17, Bears’ head coach Mike Montgomery shoved his own player — Pac-12 player of the year Allen Crabbe — and received only a slap on the wrist from the school, nothing from the Pac-12. UCLA’s Ben Howland tossed his coat into the stands in Saturday’s loss to Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game, yet nothing has come from the conference about a potential fine for his in-game conduct.
During football season, USC head coach Lane Kiffin was accused of knowing of team managers deflating balls to make them easier to hold and catch for his offensive players, and nothing came from that either.
The coach’s spirited words in defense of his players may have been the spark the Arizona needs to put into practice physical defense with a lead, and getting out of a habit of being complacent with those leads, settling for bad shots, allowing teams to creep back in games.
In press conferences, Miller is usually relaxed and reserved, no matter the outcome. To hear him speak so passionately about an in-game occurrence, especially a call by an official, was out of the norm for him.
He said in Sunday’s press conference that he tries to keep the intensity at a high enough level, so that when players enter big moments, like in Thursday’s game, which could be the last of seniors Mark Lyons, Solomon Hill, and Kevin Parrom’s careers, they are not overwhelmed by the moment. Miller is an intense coach, make no mistake about it. In games, he can often be seen flailing his arms violently and screaming at his players on the court to infuse some excitement into their play.
But how Miller behaved on Friday night ramped up the intensity tenfold.
He has the support of the athletic department, displayed in athletic director Greg Byrne’s tweet on Sunday night: “We are aware of the reprimand by the Pac-12. We are now solely focused on the NCAA tournament & I’m glad Sean Miller is our coach.”
In Monday’s weekly press conference, Hill echoed the same sentiment.
“We’re going to rally behind our coach regardless of any situation,” Hill said. “You have to be understandable toward that situation, to lose a game like that and lose the chance to improve our seeding and cut the nets down. Deep down, I was frustrated as well with what happened, but Coach is a professional and he has a way to express himself. It’s something that we learned from and our team understood the magnitude of the game and the situation that we were in. Hopefully, we can bring the same type of intensity to Thursday’s game.
“I think everyone should be more motivated. Especially seeing coach in the interview and seeing him give us energy, just give us energy to execute.”