It wasn’t the ending that the Arizona men’s basketball team had hoped for with its 80-69 loss to the Oregon Ducks on March 1.
Monday’s loss in Eugene, Oregon marked the final game of Arizona’s 2020-21 season, ending the year with an overall record of 17-9 and 11-9 in conference play.
Our full recap can be read here. Below are some highlights of Miller’s final press conference of the regular season.
Miller on how he assesses the entire season and his team’s overall performance: "This is the 17th team that I've had as a head coach and I've never been prouder of group guys than I am of this year's team. We entered the year with 10 new players, three returners that played in games a year ago. Christian Koloko, Ira Lee and Jamarl Baker, and unfortunately for both [Baker] and our team, we lost [Baker] to the season-ending injury. So if you think about it, in a sense, the 12 guys that we have on our roster, 10 of them didn't play the game for us. Throw in [COVID-19] in how hard that's been on every team.
Certainly, we've had some good fortune but to never get shut down one time, from the first day of school to the last game of our season, I think you have to give the players a lot of credit. You're not going to be able to do that unless they're disciplined in following the protocols that were set forth … it's a group of guys that really gave us everything … 11-9 in the Pac-12 and 17-9. You always want to do better, but I have the peace of mind that we battled hard in all 26 games and the fact that we sit here with 17 wins, I can make a strong argument that it could have been a lot worse based on where we were in August."
Miller on the current state of the roster and what lies ahead for this program "I believe that we can return back to the top of the mountain. You know, it doesn't happen overnight. But you know what? I came here 12 years ago. I know that's a long, long time ago. The two previous seasons before I ever showed up here as the new Arizona coach, I was the fourth coach in four years. Arizona's record in the Pac-10 was 17-19. In the first two years with us in the Pac-10, we went 24-12, and you kind of rebuilt and we sustained excellence. Right now, 11-9 isn't what anyone wants to sign up for moving forward but I do think it's a great bridge from a lot of things that have happened to a promising future."
Miller on why his team struggled defensively this season despite having a stellar offense: "There's two sides to that coin. I'm very proud of our offense … . We did a lot of great things on offense with such a young group. Defensively … I wish we were better. If we were, instead of being 11-9, we would be 14-7. We lost games with our defense and we won games of our offense. Some of it is youth. Some of it is experience. Some of it is some of the players that we have are more talented on offense than they are on defense. We have to fix that. You can do that through recruiting; we can do that through the weight room, maturation, experience. You're trying to reflect on what we can do better in terms of the scheme, you know, in terms of our tactical part of things, so we'll take a look at all that, but I think that will be a much better defensive team moving forward."
Miller on how important the rest of the coaching staff was to the success of this season: "Our coaching staff, we have a very, very good coaching staff and as you guys know, covering us in our coaching staff extends beyond just assistant coaches and myself. Our trainer, Justin Krakowski, slept in [McKale Center] 20-25 days, this year, maybe more just because of how far he lives, Oro Valley from McKale, in what he needed to do as early as 5:30 in the morning. [Christopher Rounds], David Miller, Ryan Reynolds, I mean we have a great group so I tip my hat to them because it hasn't been easy."
Miller on the possibility of scheduling one more non-conference game to end the season: "I don't think it's going to be a possibility between these other teams and their conference tournaments. As we've started to explore, even playing next week, I mean, it's just so hard on our guys to have to extend it for seven, eight, nine, 10, 11 days, for what? You know, I think there's a time where we all have to take our ball and go home. I think now's that time for us."
Miller on some of the other Pac-12 teams who will be playing in the NCAA tournament this season: "Oregon is a very, very good team … that team that we just played can make a big run in the NCAA Tournament. And between USC, UCLA, Colorado and Oregon, those are all really good teams in the Pac-12 that I think will make us really proud in the postseason. I mean, I'm pulling for all of them. But this team Oregon, Chris Duarte, make sure you guys write that name down, he's really, really good. He's gonna go on and do some great things when he leaves Oregon."
Miller on the possibility of his contract extension in the upcoming off-season: "I don't expect anything. I know that now that the season's over, I'm going to have the opportunity to talk to [Dr. Robert C. Robbins] and Dave Heeke and I look forward to having that opportunity to do that. When that time happens, I think that I'll certainly know a lot more."
Miller on specific players that made him the most proud this season: “James Akinjo. I don’t think everybody truly knows what an outstanding season he had. He had 19 points, eight assists and two turnovers tonight and he is probably going to wind up leading the Pac-12 in assists and leading our team in scoring. His three-point now is close to 40% and he was just outstanding. I believe he will be an All Pac-12 performer.
You have [Bennedict Mathurin] and [Azuolas Tubelis] and I think they are right there to be on the All-Freshman team. Christian Koloko at times looked like an all-defensive performer. Jordan Brown doesn’t start, but you can make a statement he can certainly be in consideration for Sixth Man of the Year.
[Kerr Kriisa], you have to recognize how difficult it is to be eligible for six or seven games left in the year. Coming from a different country and being a freshman, I think it is fairly obvious when you watch a guy like him play, he has a bright future and I was really pleased with him. Terrell Brown is a great kid. We will see as we talk to him about what his future is.
I don’t want to forget [Dalen Terry]. [Terry] is that unsung player in our program. He just works at it every day. I think two of our biggest wins this year, at Arizona State and at USC, we would not have won either game if [Terry] didn’t play the way he did. He is somebody I really enjoyed coaching."
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