Greg Hansen: Clutch coaching comes down to players

Athletes make them look like geniuses or fools at game's end
2012-01-27T00:01:00Z 2012-01-27T00:12:11Z Greg Hansen: Clutch coaching comes down to playersGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 27, 2012 12:01 am  • 

UA basketball fans surrender their sanity every winter, believing Their Team should beat The Other Team, every night, anywhere, anytime, and that includes Duke, Kansas and especially UCLA.

At McKale Center, the first casualties of winter are always patience and common sense. I mean, it took but 20 games for Sean Miller to go from Saint (a victory over Duke and a berth in the Elite Eight) to Sinner (unacceptable late-game losses to Oregon and Colorado).

I almost swerved off the highway the other day, bent over with disbelief, when some guy on the radio suggested that Miller "isn't a good game coach," and another followed by saying "he hasn't recruited well."

A third voice ranted that Miller is too menacing, a micromanager of the worst sort, and that if he doesn't immediately morph into Mr. Nice Guy that he will "lose this team."

Honeymoon? Over.

Do you realize Sean Miller is 60-30 in his first 90 games since he took over a busted program whose leading players were Jamelle Horne and Nic Wise, neither of whom got a sniff in the NBA draft?

Lute Olson was 55-35 through 90 Arizona games. Why, Mike Krzyzewski was 43-47 in his first 90 games at Duke.

And now Miller can't coach in the clutch? Such are the standards at Arizona.

The reversal has been so ridiculous that Miller was recently asked if maybe he should re-examine his methods.

"I'm not changing," he said. "The players are gonna change."

After the Wildcats beat Washington State 85-61 Thursday night, little changed. Arizona still has no size, no consistency, no go-to shooter, an all-freshman starting backcourt and perhaps the least effective bench at Arizona in 25 years.

And yet nobody has toyed with the Wildcats or taken them to the woodshed. They lost by 11 to Gonzaga in what was a 62-56 game with two minutes remaining. They lost by 10 to Mississippi State in a two-possession game with three minutes to go.

Given his team's flaws, you could make a case that Miller should be a strong contender as Pac-12 coach of the year.

The emails I read this week, and the radio and message-board comments, had an absurd theme: Miller's ability in end-game situations needs work.

"He doesn't know how to properly use timeouts," the anonymous voices insisted.

Because Miller used his final timeout with 2:51 remaining at Colorado, he was unable to counsel his team in the final 29 seconds of a game it trailed 64-63. The result was a rushed airball by Kevin Parrom.

"I'd do exactly the same thing again," Miller said 20 minutes later.

Once you get to Miller's age - 43 - once you've spent nine years as a head coach, the chance of a midlife reawakening, of a personality transplant, is zero.

Miller is loud and passionate, not a Mike Stoops-style screamer, but an emotional coach whose style is 180 degrees removed from those who almost seem to fall asleep on the McKale Center visitor's bench, from Herb Sendek and Ben Braun to Steve Fisher.

It's precisely Miller's fire and his commitment to perfection that separates him from, well, from Wazzu's invisible Ken Bone.

Those who argue that Miller carelessly spent his team's timeouts at Colorado should remember this:

In last year's whiteout victory over Washington, Miller called his final timeout with 1:36 remaining, UA trailing the Huskies 86-85. After that strategy session, MoMo Jones missed a rushed three-point attempt. Ironically, Arizona won after Washington called a timeout with 17 seconds, set up a final play, only to see it scuttled when Derrick Williams famously blocked a shot that was pure improvisation.

Later, in the finals of the Pac-10 tournament, after Arizona tied the game at 75 with 21 seconds remaining, Washington eschewed a timeout. Working on instincts, Isaiah Thomas buried a three-pointer at the buzzer to win it.

Washington lost when it called a late timeout. A few weeks later, it won when it didn't.

It's not science. Many times - most times - end-game results are pure happenstance.

Two weeks ago, Miller used his final timeout with 26 seconds remaining, trailing Oregon 59-57. His instructions didn't help much. The Wildcats missed three jumpers and lost.

Every college basketball team practices end-game possessions dozens of times each week. If you've got Salim Stoudamire shooting in the final ticks of a Sweet 16 game against Oklahoma State, you're a much better coach.

If you've got a fragile Kevin Parrom, under duress in Boulder, Colo., a few feet in front of the Buffaloes pep band, people write emails and call radio shows suggesting you are no John Wooden.

Miller doesn't need me, or anyone, to defend him. But at least now he knows that the microscope that examines Arizona basketball can be as unkind as it is unrelenting.

 

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