PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – So where do we start? Can this possibly be explained?
First, maybe it's worth looking again at the big picture behind the scenes.
After the Wildcats lost their third – and worst yet – game in the Battle 4 Atlantis, UA coach Sean Miller was asked if he had any sense the ongoing investigations have gotten into his team’s heads.
After all, the federal investigation into college basketball led fraud and bribery charges against assistant coach Book Richardson, leaving Miller’s staff one assistant down, while the UA has commissioned an independent investigation that is presumably looking into potential NCAA violations.
Then there were the unspecified NCAA violations led to the suspensions of another assistant coach, Mark Phelps, and senior forward Keanu Pinder earlier this month.
But, when asked if the investigation has affected his team (a question that Fran Fraschilla is also asking), Miller gave the same response he always has when asked about the investigations and potential NCAA issues.
“Our focus is just on the season right now,” Miller said.
The season suddenly looks different than it did a few days ago, and Miller wouldn’t argue with that.
The Wildcats are 3-3 and now, road games at UNLV and New Mexico look tougher, as well as a Dec. 9 home game with Alabama.
Also, the Wildcats might completely slip out of the Top 25 polls after being ranked No. 2 this week.
“We’ve been ranked in the top 25, I think, for 101 weeks in a row,” Miller said, when discussing how opponents have been especially motivated to play Arizona. “We came here the No. 2-ranked team. Everybody knows that. But now it’s different for us. So I don’t know if everybody will look at us as the same team maybe that they looked at before."
Miller said he’s hoping to get small forward Rawle Alkins back from a broken foot but pedaled carefully when asked how the week in the Bahamas might have looked with him on the floor.
“I don’t really know,” Miller said. “He hasn’t been there. We can only go with the group that we have and keep our fingers crossed that his health bounces our way here over the next couple of weeks or so. We can’t rush him. It’s a foot injury.
“Rawle’s one of our most experienced players. He fills a gap right now that we have on the wing. He’s one of our bess players. So we’re gonna be better. But I don’t want to make it like when he comes back it’s all fixed. I think there’s a lot of different things we have to work on with or without him, and hopefully as those things move our way and we get him back we’re more talented, deeper and maybe better prepared to be successful.
“I would say this: If Rawle was on our team in this tournament, I don’t think I would be talking to you right now (in the loser’s press conference). Maybe we wouldn’t have won all three but I don’t think we’d have lost all three.”
Without Alkins, Miller has been going with Emmanuel Akot and Dylan Smith in the starting small forward spot. He started Smith for the first two games of the Atlantis event and Akot on Friday, but said Akot’s knee was bothering him, and Akot played only one minute in the second half and 10 total.
“Emmanuel played hard and well against SMU but his knee was bothering him tonight, and he really couldn’t go,” Miller said. “Some of that’s youthfulness for him.”
Won't be a surprise if Miller next turns to Brandon Randolph, who was the starter at small forward for one game in Spain and for UA’s first exhibition game before suffering a concussion on Nov. 5. After a slow initial return, Randolph appeared to be back in his old form Friday, scoring 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting.
After a concussion, “you don’t just snap your fingers and say `OK, I’m back,’ “ Miller said. “You could see he has a scoring punch. He’s one of many freshmen who will keep getting better.”