Sean Miller: “We are not that talented”
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Weeks prior to the Bahamas fiasco, head coach Sean Miller said his team’s defense and effort needed to improve. Arizona then proceeded to lose three games in a row and fall out of the AP Top 25 poll for the first time since 2012, with defense and effort the main culprits in the losing streak.
Despite Arizona blowing out Long Beach State 91-56 in its return to the comforts of the McKale Center, those same issues resurfaced and Sean Miller made it clear that this was hardly a step in the right direction for his team.
“We are a lifeless group a lot of times,” Miller said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen more of a group that just can’t bring it, can’t work, can’t really fight defensively and man is it disappointing.”
A month ago, the preseason polls were rolled out and Arizona was propped up as one of the best teams in the country with arguably Miller’s most talented team. That all seems like a distant fairytale now.
“The reality for us is we are not that talented, we have to play really, really hard,” Miller said.
Despite the optics of winning by 35 points and holding Long Beach State to 41 percent (21-51) from the floor suggesting that the ‘Cats have weathered the storm, it might be the just opposite of that.
“We really struggle to play with great effort and I don’t think we are going to be very successful until that’s fixed,” Miller said.
The Wildcats led by almost 20 points coming out for the second half but suddenly came out flat to for the first few minutes, allowing the 49ers to mount a comeback.
“We had a hard time matching up in transition,” Miller said. “You have to rotate the right way, got to be where you are supposed to be. You have to pressure the ball, can’t get beat.”
It’s quite rare to see a team coached by Sean Miller get called out so frequently for such lapses since rim protection and hard-nosed effort have been the staple of Arizona basketball since Miller’s arrival. But it might be a while before those concerns are erased with this year’s team.
To fix them -- or hopefully fix them in Miller’s case -- Miller has just one question for his team.
“How hard are you willing to play, and are you willing to give of yourself defensively?” Miller asked.
The threat of critically reduced minutes for those that do not want to contribute on defense is real and the threat will only become more real once sophomore guard Rawle Alkins returns from injury. Miller hinted that he may only play six or seven players regularly once Alkins is back to full strength on the court.
To be clear, the sky isn’t falling yet for an Arizona team that was -- and probably still is -- a heavy favorite to win the Pac-12. But the season could go south quick if the issues aren’t repaired.
The Wildcat’s schedule toughens up in the next few weeks with road matchups against UNLV and New Mexico as well as a neutral site game against No. 9 Texas A&M next week.
It might be the perfect opportunity for Sean Miller to gut out the team’s issues before conference play, win or lose.
“I’m not afraid to lose,” Miller said.
Follow Alec White on Twitter