Sean Miller unhappy, but not panicking
Arizona men’s basketball head coach Sean Miller said Monday that Arizona is not the team people think it is, but he believes the Wildcats can get there.
“We get labeled as an ultra talented team and a team that ‘we’re going to win it all, or bust,’” Miller said. “We are not there.”
Arizona lost to Colorado 80-77 Saturday after being down by 20 in the first half. The Wildcats made a strong comeback in the second half, but never managed to overcome CU and lost by three. The loss dropped Arizona from No. 14 to No. 17 in the AP top 25.
After the game, Miller tore into his players, saying he couldn't reach them or get them to play ‘for him’ as the head coach. On Monday, Miller said he doesn’t feel any different.
“No, I really feel that way today,” Miller said. “I think this is a big moment in our season, not because the world is falling or caving in around us, as much as it is that we have to be able to establish high effort.”
Effort, or its lack thereof, was the main criticism Miller had against his team. More specifically, Miller said he sees a lack of effort on defense.
“It really starts with our defense, our defense is falling,” Miller said. “The defensive numbers that we have right now through 16 games, are as much of a direct reflection of how hard we play all the time, then it is, do we know what to do, or our ability level.”
Before the CU game, Arizona was ranked 76th in defensive efficiency per KenPom, but after the loss, the Wildcats fell to 99th. Far lower than teams Arizona has had in the past.
Miller is known as a ‘defense first’ coach that puts a lot of time and effort into keeping his teams among the most elite defensive teams in the country, year after year. But this year, Miller questioned whether or not his team is capable of getting to the same level as previous teams.
“Maybe the best we can be is a top 50 defensive team,” Miller said. “I aspire to get our team to that number.”
Despite his concerns, Miller had some encouraging things to say. Taking a step back in time, he brought up the 2014-15 season to show that while he is unhappy with how his team is playing right now, it doesn’t mean the season is doomed.
During that season three years ago, when T.J. MCconnell was a senior and Arizona had freshman Stanley Johnson, the Wildcats finished 34-4 and made it as far as the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament.
But, Miller said that while a 34-4 record looks good, you have to remember Arizona struggled that year too, there were games the Wildcats lost that should have been won and there were games Arizona barely won against teams that were clearly less talented.
“We didn’t play to the level that we were capable of,” Miller said. “But we finally found our stretch and we ended up being right where we should have been, on the threshold of the Final Four.”
Miller sees a reflection of those struggles in the team he has now.
“With this year, it's too early, its a work in progress right now,” Miller said. “Remember, we won nine games in a row, an entire month and didn't lose, and we played some good teams.”
According to Miller it is going to take hard work and unquestioned effort to get the team where it needs to be.
“We have to fix it, that’s all. Again, it's not so much that everything is caving in around us, it’s so much more about where we go from here,” Miller said. “We will eventually become the team we think we can be.”
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