EUGENE, Ore. – Sean Miller went with Kevin Parrom in a smaller starting lineup at Oregon on Thursday, but indicated it was only a temporary shift.
Miller said earlier this week that he planned to stick with a bigger lineup even as his freshmen big men have struggled defensively, but said he switched at the last minute Thursday when he learned that Oregon was starting E.J. Singler at power forward.
That meant Brandon Ashley would be guarding the crafty, tough Singler, so Miller instead shifted Solomon Hill to power forward with the Singler assignment. Parrom went into the starting lineup at small forward, and Ashley came off the bench for only the third time this season.
“It has nothing to do with Ashley as much as because of Singler, the way he plays it’s not smart… so we matched up Solomon with him to be better,” Miller said.
Miller said he would not keep the smaller lineup Saturday against OSU, but it may be worth noting that Parrom hit a three-pointer and assisted Hill on another in the first two minutes – while Singler didn’t score for the first six minutes.
Ashley had three points and one rebound in 17 minutes while backup forward Grant Jerrett was scoreless with four rebounds in 18 minutes.
The way Miller operates, no win is too big and no loss is too bad. That goes even for his first team’s loss of the 2012-13 season.
So after the Wildcats lost 70-66 at Oregon, Miller took his normal time in the postgame locker room (he has held postgame team meetings for much longer periods after some wins), did his radio show and then met with a handful of us outside UA’s locker room at Matthew Knight Arena.
It was a loss that he was not surprised by, facing a good Oregon team in a good homecourt environment, factors that he had discussed before.
“No question,” he said. “Nothing is as good as it seems. The one thing we talked about is we did a great job in our nonconference season. Most teams in the country would love to trade for us and then we cross the threshold of competing for a conference championship. We took care of business at home and had two thrilling games but now we have to try to leave here with a split and be ready against Oregon State.”
Of course, while Miller expected Oregon would be trouble, he did not expect the Ducks to shoot 56.7 percent from the field in the first half -- a problem with UA's defense that he essentially blamed the loss on.
Solomon Hill said the Wildcats didn’t pay enough attention to the scouting report, allowing the Ducks to do some things UA knew they liked to do, while Miller said another problem was that the Wildcats simply didn’t go all-out, all the time.
“When I say effort, it’s not not trying,” Miller said. “It’s trying but knowing that there’s another level you have to try to reach. It’s not running fast. It’s running fast as you can. It’s not being great on every defensive possession as much as playing with unbelievable effort and concentration, and sustaining it not just in four-minute bursts but in a 20-minute burst.
“And it’s not just our younger guys, it’s just us as a team. My experience is you always hit peaks and valleys. Sometimes you can’t make a shot. This weekend we struggled to make a couple of shots. But you look at us tonight 8 of 19 for three and 25 for 52 (from the field) and there are some things on offense that were good enough to win. It’s just we weren’t able to get enough (defensive) stops.”
Guard Nick Johnson said he was glad that UA at least showed, once again, that it has the ability to come back. The Wildcats trailed by 11 at halftime and by 13 in the second half before cutting Oregon’s lead to three points on Johnson’s three-pointer with 52 seconds left.
“I guess that’s probably what you can always count on with this team,” Johnson said. “We don’t give up. It’s a trait about this team that our leaders project, and everyone else follows. That’s not really our problem. We’ve gotta worry about our defense in the first half and things like that.”
In a possible break for Arizona, Oregon State forward Eric Moreland was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules (OSU coach Craig Robinson said he didn't know when Moreland would return).
The Beavers' frontcourt was already shorthanded after they lost Angus Brandt to a knee injury. OSU lost to ASU to drop to 0-2 in conference play.
The Bruins had a scary night even before they reached Utah's Huntsman Center, making their way through a snowstorm, then won by only four points.