NEW YORK – If Arizona winds up going deep in the NCAA tournament, the roots of it started right here at Madison Square Garden.
And during that closed scrimmage at Saint Mary’s, and during Arizona's Nov. 14 road game at San Diego State.
“One thing I learned at Xavier was the importance of the non-conference schedule,” Miller said. “The days of hiding at home or ducking the parity that exists have ended. … Having gone to San Diego State, then coming here to New York to play two quality opponents… that’s why you want to play in an event like this one.”
“It makes you better. If we wouldn’t have won both, I feel like we’d have gotten on the plane knowing more about our team and being better because of it.”
That plane. It’s the same 50-seat regional jet that Arizona flew out on Monday night, and it was expected, again, to need a refueling stop somewhere in the Midwest during the wee hours this morning.
This time, though, the Wildcats hardly cared.
“To travel about 15 hours tonight… it’s going to be a nice plane ride home,” Miller said.
Miller was asked about the two star freshmen in tonight’s game, Duke’s Jabari Parker and Arizona’s Aaron Gordon.
“Jabari Parker is just a really dynamic player,” Miller said. “One of the things that’s striking is how big he is. He’s a load and yet he’s so talented away from the goal.
“Aaron Gordon, you know… Aaron is not going to score 30. He’s not a volume shooter. He’s a basketball player and if you really think about what he did during the game – he guarded (Rodney) Hood and Parker – he had seven rebounds, he made a couple of the best passes for us and he made a big three-point shot. …
"He’s a guy you love to have on your team because he’s a great teammate and it seems like everything flows better when he’s out there, even though he’s not a point guard.”
At least a third of the 13,266 fans on hand in the Garden were rooting for Arizona, with chants of "U of A" and "Ar-i-zo-na" dominating the crowd in the final minutes.
That also made it worth the trip to New York for the Wildcats, and athletic director Greg Byrne.
"That was great to hear that," Byrne said. "We have a good alumni base here but I also saw a lot of people from Tucson."
Arizona is estimated to have about 4,000 alums in the New York metro area.