Arizona associate head coach Lorenzo Romar lined up a new job on the California coastline Monday, but he isn’t thinking of leaving anytime too soon.
Maybe not for, oh, another three weeks.
“We’re not planning on this to only last a few days,” Romar said of the Wildcats’ upcoming NCAA Tournament appearance.
After Pepperdine officially rehired Romar as head coach Monday, returning him to where he held his first a head coaching job two decades ago, Romar said he will stay with the Wildcats through the NCAA Tournament — even though he now also has to start recruiting to add to the Waves’ roster this spring.
“My focus is here,” Romar said. It’s “to help Arizona win a national championship. I know there are some (Pepperdine roster) spots open, but there’s so much going on here. We just won the Pac-12 Tournament and we’re working nonstop.”
After taking the Arizona associate head coaching job last April, Romar said he and UA coach Sean Miller discussed the possibility of a good offer coming up – and Romar said Miller told him it was no issue if he left for one. That offer arrived.
“We’re elated for Lorenzo,” Miller said. “We didn’t know how long he would be here for. Clearly if he had an opportunity as good as Pepperdine, it’s something he has to take.”
Romar said his eyes have not wandered over the past season, even as a return to a head coaching job has been expected. Romar has been a head coach for 21 seasons between stints at Pepperdine, Saint Louis and Washington, spending the previous 15 seasons with the Huskies before he was fired last spring.
“It wasn’t my intent,” Romar said. “I never made a call to anyone. There have been several inquiries if I was interested in certain places. I said, ‘Thanks but no thanks’ and went about my business. But when I was contacted by Pepperdine, it was a little different story.”
Not only did Romar hold the Pepperdine job from 1996-97 to 1998-99, but athletic director Steve Potts was dean of Pepperdine’s law school when Romar coached there the first time, and the two played in a nighttime rec basketball league together. Pepperdine President Andrew Benton was vice president in the late ’90s, too.
“There’s a lot of familiarity,” Romar said.
In a Pepperdine news release Monday, Benton said he was “delighted that coach Romar is coming ‘home,’” while Potts cited Romar’s commitment to building a title contender in the West Coast Conference as a reason for hiring him.
That’s been an issue recently at Pepperdine. The Waves won just 15 games over the last two seasons, and the school opted not to renew coach Marty Wilson in mid-February.
But there may be upside. Romar averaged 18 wins over his final two seasons at Pepperdine, and said the recruiting proximity to talent in the Los Angeles area, where Romar is from and remains well-connected, is one reason he took the job.
Romar said he’ll return to Pepperdine a much different coach this time, in part because of what he picked up this season under Miller. Known for aggressive, gambling defenses at Washington, Romar said he’s even come to believe in the principles behind the gap-oriented “pack-line” scheme that Miller prefers.
“I had time for reflection, after I was let go from Washington, about that ‘you can do better,’” Romar said. “But now I’ve learned more about game preparation and scouting, I’ve learned more on the defensive end … (The pack-line) is the same defense that we hated playing against when I was at Washington. I have a strong belief that it works.”
Miller said Romar has done an “excellent job” in helping guide the Wildcats and, of course, Miller is hoping that remains the case for a while, too.
“We’re gonna miss him, but our season’s not over yet,” Miller said. “I think he knows that as well.”
Not quite home
The NCAA selection committee’s decision to ship Arizona to Boise instead of San Diego means the Wildcats won’t have a large nearby alumni base to help flood the stands and increase the decibel level of the usual “U of A” chants.
Still, forward Rawle Alkins is optimistic the Wildcats will get support at Taco Bell Arena in Boise on Thursday when they open with Buffalo in a first-round NCAA Tournament game.
“I think we have great fans so they’re probably gonna travel wherever we go,” Alkins said. “It shouldn’t matter where we go. At the same time, we probably would have had more of a homecourt advantage if we were in San Diego.”
Overall, Alkins said the UA’s placement in Idaho and the South Region was a “surprise” to the Wildcats, but he and Miller largely shrugged it off Monday.
“I think for us, you can’t make too much of the seed or the place you’re going,” Miller said.
“You have to play well. It can be the perfect setup, but if you don’t play really well there’s so much parity in the tournament that you’ll end up losing.”
Miller said the key is trying to “shrink the thought process” and not worry about the entire tournament as much as focusing on what’s ahead in Boise. In other words, forget about Virginia and the rest of the South bracket for a while.
“We’re in a four-team tournament,” Miller said. “The difference is if you lose, your season ends.”
Miller said the Wildcats would be dealing with a confident team in Buffalo and, apparently, he’s right.
Buffalo coach Nate Oats told the Buffalo News he thought his team, which was 26-8 while winning both the Mid-American Conference regular-season and tournament titles, was underseeded. Oats also said, “I like our guard play against them.”
Center Nick Perkins said the Bulls’ speed will challenge Arizona’s defense and wasn’t intimidated by what he called UA’s “one-two punch” of Deandre Ayton and Allonzo Trier.
“That’s something we can stop,” Perkins told the News. “I feel we can go out there and get the win.”
UA coach Sean Miller said the Bulls are aggressive and fast, often playing 6-7 power forward Jeremy Harris on the wing.
“They’re incredibly talented and well-coached,” Miller said.
“They play a style that’s difficult to defend. They strike in transition and they know how to win. … We’re dealing with a confident team, a team that I’m sure is able to beat anybody on their schedule, including us, and we have to be ready to go.”
- Over three games in the Pac-12 Tournament, Miller played guard Brandon Randolph only three minutes and did not play forward Ira Lee.
“We’re playing right now a rotation we feel gives us the best chance to win,” Miller said. “Ira missed quite a bit of time with the concussion and he just started to get cleared as we entered the tournament. We’re gonna need our bench just like we need our starters to be successful.”
- Deandre Ayton was named to the United States Basketball Writers Association all-America first team Monday, along with Oklahoma’s Trae Young, Duke’s Marvin Bagley, Kansas’ Devonte’ Graham and Villanova’s Jalen Brunson.