NEW YORK – Arizona Wildcats players, coaches, staffers and accompanying families have all been invited to a big Thanksgiving Dinner tonight, but the dessert will have to wait a day.
That’s when the Wildcats get a crack at Duke for the first time since they beat the Blue Devils in the 2011 Sweet Sixteen and only the second time since Duke won the 2001 national championship game.
Also on the line: The NIT Season Tip-Off championship. Duke has won four of them and UA has won three.
“Obviously, for a team, for a player and coach, it’s exciting to have a chance to play in the championship game at this event and to have such a storied program and such an excellent team in Duke to play against,” UA coach Sean Miller said today, before the Wildcats hopped a bus that skirted the parade and took them to practice at Madison Square Garden. “That’s why you want to be a part of Arizona’s program. …
“They represent excellence and it’s to their credit. Anytime you play a program like that you have to be at your best.”
There’s a pretty good chance Arizona will be at its best. The Wildcats know they can’t have a first half like they had against Drexel on Wednesday, when they had no assists and shot 26 percent in the first half while trailing the Dragons 29-20 at halftime.
“All of us want to be challenged at the highest level and we know that we have to play better than we played last night,” Miller said. “We have to play an excellent game but I know we’re capable of doing that. But they’re a very good team, they’re the type of team that’s competing for the national championship, and I think we’ll learn a lot about where we are."
I asked Miller to elaborate on the balance he is looking for from T.J. McConnell. On one hand, Miller has praised McConnell's aggressiveness and ability to get steals but Wednesday night was the first time he was critical of McConnell’s efforts to do so because they led to fouls. Obviously, they also can lead to easy shots by the opponent.
“What he has to do is channel risk versus reward – is it worth going for the steal versus staying disciplined?” Miller said. “I don’t want to say `safe.’ You can be really aggressive. If you, for example, go for a steal when your team is up five points late in the game and they make a three because you went for a steal, that’s not being a smart player. That’s putting your team at risk.
“There’s a time to go for it and a time not to. His gambling… he has to learn when to gamble within the confines of our defense. “
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was facing the same guys at Madison Square Garden that he met in so many pickup games back in Philly.
The Andy Enfield-Tim Floyd thing became even worse in the Bahamas, apparently.
James Whitford had a difficult trip back to Utah with Ball State.
We had a bunch of notes and links to coverage from last night's games on the previous blog post.
Hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving...