Just like it used to be in Sean Miller’s earlier years at Arizona, and in the interim years before that, it became clear tonight that the Wildcats will need a little help from their fans the rest of the way.
It worked out pretty well in UA's 67-65 win over Oregon, the way Miller saw it.
“I keep saying this but I say it because it’s true: Playing in McKale Center is such an honor for a team, for a player, that you don’t ever want to lose becuase you feel like you’re letting everybody down,” Miller said. “Tonight was like a was a group effort with our crowd and the team. We were all resilient in the building. We were all trying to will ourselves to the final second.”
Not only did the crowd rise up when the Wildcats needed it throughout the game, but the place went "crazy,” Nick Johnson said, when a mid-second-half defensive stop led to a dunk from Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
And at the end, Oregon missed 3 of 4 free throws – and guard T.J. McConnell agreed with a suggestion that the fans had something to do with that. The Ducks were shooting while facing the UA student section.
“In my opinion – and I played here against Arizona (with Duquesne in 2011-12) – we have the best fans in the country,” McConnell said. “When you go to the free throw line, the opposing team can barely hear you think. I can see why they missed those free throws because the Zona Zoo gets pretty loud and all of our fans get pretty loud.”
With its shooting off again Thursday, the Wildcats needed to make up for it with rebounding again, but failed to do so. They were outrebounded 40-35 overall, and while they managed to get 15 offensive rebounds to Oregon’s 13, the differential is usually bigger than that.
Arizona had 16 second-chance points while Oregon had 11.
“We struggled blocking Oregon out,” Miller said. “Where you really feel it is we usually get 15 (offensive rebounds) but the other team doesn’t get 13. That’s why the game felt that way, because we missed free throws and we did some things we’ve done in the past, but we (usually) mask it by being such an exceptional rebounding team.
“We lost that tonight. We had a smaller group in there. We have to get better that that. Our room for error in rebounding has temporarilty left us. I think we’ll get it back but that was a real difference for fans or anyone who watched tonight’s game -- when Oregon missed, that’s what looked different. We weren’t as sure about getting the defensive rebound.”
UA was 4 for 16 overall from three-point range, with Nick Johnson 0 for 5 and McConnell 2 for 6 after missing four of his first five.
Miller wanted them to keep shooting.
It’s “just making sure they’re good ones,” Miller said. “One of the things T.J. was doing against the zone was he was too far out. A couple of his shots were more from the NBA line than the college line. The one he made (toward the end of the game) looks like he were closer. He’s a very good shooter, as is Nick.”
Elliott Pitts was 1 for 3 from long range in 12 minutes off the bench, a performance Miller was encouraged by.
“Watching Elliott Pitts, you can see it looked right,” Miller said. “He has a beautiful-looking shot. Again, the more he gets out there, the more comfortable he gets. I think he can give us maybe a punch on offense and that can be one of the positives as we utilize him more.”
Miller said he had planned to use forward Matt Korcheck but opted not to the way Thursday’s game went. He said Korcheck will probably play Sunday against OSU.
Aaron Gordon returned on a sprained ankle and Miller didn’t sound too worried about him.
“I think he’ll be OK,” Miller said. “It doesn’t look like it will be a real bad one but he did roll his ankle.”
Elsewhere in the Pac-12:
-- ASU held off OSU in overtime.
-- Utah beat Washington.