Sean Miller spoke for nearly 25 minutes after Arizona’s 91-56 win over Long Beach State on Wednesday and, if you’ve listened to Miller over the years, you know that’s a lot of material.
There’s a lot of meaning, because Miller doesn't typically use words like "um," or "well," or go any meaningless tangents.
So Wednesday, the first question to Miller was whether he thought this was the sort of game the Wildcats needed.
Miller took two and a half minutes to answer. Here’s the full transcription of how he answered:
“It’s always better to win when you lose three games in a row. I knew before the game started that there was going to be kind of a renewed confidence and it may take some time and I thought a lot of the first half was just that, not (with) every player on the court but we didn’t walk out there with our chest out having won the battle of Atlantis and be ranked in the top 5. We walked out there finishing in eighth place in the battle of Atlantis, coming off three losses in a row I think for the first time in eight, nine years (since 2009-10). We had some players who didn’t play well and when you have guys who didn’t play well, when you don’t play well in three games, in three days, you don’t just snap your finger.
“We really struggle to play with great effort and I don’t think we’re going to be very successful until that’s fixed.
“I have my fingers crossed that that Rawle (Alkins, who has a broken foot) can finish off here. We’re at nine weeks (and maybe) we can get him back in the future. He’s a really big part of our team. Bigger than maybe any of us realize. Because there’s such a dropoff emotionally, there’s such a drop off physically without him, that I think he’ll fill a gap that no matter what the coach says or does we’re just gonna be bigger stronger, deeper, better, and because we have a player of his capability who hasn’t done anything yet.
"In the meantime, or even once he comes back, it’s not like we’re gonna be great. It’s going to be a work in progress. The guy hasn’t played basketball in like 60-some days so it’s going to take him some time but I am looking forward to that. (With a full roster) you’re able to sit a couple guys on the bench and not play them at all -- that’s usually the medicine. And now you don’t play the guy who doesn’t play hard at all and if he does play, the only way he gets to play is if he plays with tremendous spirit, emotion, togetherness, fight. We’re a lifeless group a lot of times.
"I thought Parker (Jackson-Cartwright) did a good job of kind of injecting us with life. A couple of steals, played hard, got out in transition and broke the game open, that’s what we expect from him. But other than that, did we need a game like this? Disappointed just kind of watching our team where we’re at. We’ve had our moments over the last six or seven years where you watch a group but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a group that just can’t bring it, can’t work, can’t really fight defensively and, man, is it disappointing.”
After that ended, I asked Miller what specifically he was upset about, if it was the opening minutes of the second half, when UA’s defensive effort lagged, or what.
He took 90 seconds to answer that one.
“We don’t play with effort. We had a hard time matching up in transition. They missed a lot of free throws (LBSU was 8 of 17 from the line) which helped our cause. You have to rotate the right way. You gotta be where you’re supposed to be. You have to pressure the ball. Can’t get beat. You know, it’s like driveway basketball: ‘Check, you got the ball. I’m on defense. Can’t go around me. Sometimes it’s just that. But our problems aren’t one dimensional. Our problems are for everyone. Protect the rim. Guy comes in. Smash the shot off the glass. Go the other way. Draw a charge. Jump up. Make ‘em call a foul on you. Go straight up, jump and wall up, right? Play hard. Pick and roll defense. Be where you’re supposed to be. Do it every single time. Not three or four times. Do it 15 times in a row. That’s what you’re supposed to do.
“And you know, I don’t know if anyone here gave Kadeem Allen enough credit but where you should really give him credit is right now because without him, it’s like, man, it’s pulling teeth right now. Because he is so unselfish, he’s such a hard-playing guy, he’s so talented defensively, that you couldn’t help but raise your level because of how hard he played. We’ve been blessed to have a lot of teams like that. Couple of years back with T.J. (McConnell), Rondae (Hollis-Jefferson). Couple years back with Aaron Gordon, Stanley Johnson. Kyle Fogg became that guy. Think about defense. No one yells over the microphone 'good basket' (after a defensive stop). No one in the media a lot of times is going to talk about you. But defensively, man, that is the biggest gap right now we have to jump up from.”
That kind of speech went on for another 20 minutes, and Miller knows what players (and probably fans) might be thinking about it all.
"Tonight when you win 91-56 it’s easy to say, `Man, coach is a madman, get off my back.’ But until you go and play against real competition and away from home and you’re playing against these older players and great coaches. There’s a guy at Purdue, Dakota Mathias (who had 24 points, five rebounds and six assists against UA), no one even talks about him. He’s a stud. He’s an animal. Does it on defense. Does it on offense. And you know what, (coach) Matt Painter when he runs his offense he almost runs it through (Mathias) so he can pass the ball to the post. And sometimes you say, `Pass the ball to the post? C’mon, coach. Why do I have to throw the ball in in there?' But when you play against a group like that you understand the value. I think our roles will be more defined as we keep moving forward. We’re not Purdue because we have a very young group, especially without Rawle. (It’s) the emotional level, the ability to connect with each other on defense, to give great maximum effort throughout the game and being in the right spot.”
So you get the picture. Miller went on at length about how his highly ranked freshman have to realize that “the race starts over again in college” -- Ryan Kelapire had more of Miller's comments about that here -- and how UA could struggle in the games ahead: The Wildcats will play at UNLV on Saturday, then face Texas A&M in Phoenix on Tuesday, and Alabama on Dec. 9 at McKale Center.
“I’m not scared to lose,” Miller said. “We could lose every game. That’s just part of athletics, that’s all part of it, if you get real tight and all of a sudden you can’t tie your tie because you’re worried about losing, then you’re not going to be a very effective leader or coach. We could lose. We could lose the next two games for sure. We can lose six in a row. We’ve lost three in a row.
"But it’s really not (about the score as much as) where we’re at as a group. It’s about establishing a way of doing things every day. How hard are you working? How hard are you working in practice? How does it carry into a game? The mistakes we are really watching and… we see some improvement from the last game to this game. We have talent. We’re not just not overwhelming.”
After all that talk about benching players without enough effort, it appeared obvious that Emmanuel Akot was one of those guys. Akot played just five minutes on Wednesday.
Miller, who had spoken earlier this fall about Akot's potential to become a defensive stopper, said Akot has been bothered by tendonitis in his knees. But it didn't sound like Miller believes that's much of an excuse -- Miller finished that discussion by noting that “he’s not a stopper right now.”
Our full coverage and PDFs of the box score and UA's stats are attached to this post.