LOS ANGELES – Sean Miller said repeatedly Saturday he had a “much different feeling” after UA’s loss at UCLA than during a win over WSU and a loss at USC over the past week.
So even with the Wildcats having lost four of their past seven, he still found some sense of momentum by the way Arizona came back from a 14-point deficit to have a chance to win or tie in the final seconds.
At 23-6 overall and 11-6 in the Pac-12, Arizona now finishes the regular season with ASU on Saturday.
“Big-picture-wise, when you’re entering game 30, the goal for us is to go 24-6 and 12-6,” Miller said. “If we’re 24-6 and 12-6 we look at ourselves and that’s pretty good for us, going into (the Pac-12 Tournament at) Vegas, being able to feel good about ourselves and hopefully getting a bye, then play three games in three days, then see how that goes and then play for the coveted seed.”
The seed... at this point, UA isn’t even guaranteed a Top 4 seed, which is the usual cutoff for getting a preferred geographical placement – for UA, probably Salt Lake City or San Jose for the first weekend.
UA has been projected as high as a No. 2 seed, though Miller said Saturday that may have never fully reflected where the Wildcats really were.
“I know at one point we were a two seed but I don’t know if we’re good enough to be a two seed,” Miller said. “We may have played for a large part of the season at that level but at the end of the day … you look at us and we’re probably not one of the top eight teams in the country. Maybe we’re one of the top 25. I think for us it’s just about finishing strong and keeping things in perspective.”
The Wildcats may have also played their way out of a berth in the West Region, which is usually given to the Pac-12’s most qualified team (and then the next two or three teams are placed in other regions). That means UA may not have a chance to play a Sweet 16 game in Los Angeles.
But Miller said all that isn’t worth worrying about now.
“We’re not playing well enough to think in those terms,” he said. “For us it’s so much about the next game and being ready for Arizona State.”
Arizona allowed UCLA to shoot 46.8 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from three point territory. They weren’t good numbers but better than UA has given up much of the time recently – and Miller found the number also wasn’t as bad if you consider how good UCLA was.
“We’re still not a very good defensive team,” Miller said. “If you look at UCLA’s numbers it’s not good enough to win but we, again, had a different feeling. Sometimes a guy like Shabazz (Muhammad) can come off a stagger screen, be defended and make the shot. And at the end of the (shot) clock, Larry Drew really is a handful.
“But we competed and again if we would have had that type of effort a few other times in recent weeks we would have lost tonight but still had the opportunity to win the conference. What cost us the conference regular season championship wasn’t losing to UCLA tonight was much as it was a number of times over the last few weeks where defensively, we just weren’t good enough.”
Miller again said he would vote for Drew as the Pac-12’s Player of the Year if the Bruins win the conference title.
“I don’t really think it’s close,” Miller said. “The impact that he has on the game, to make his teammate better... I know in the two games we played UCLA, he was the difference, and that doesn’t mean I’m taking anything away from the other players but he’s a complete floor general, the throttle that makes them go, and in Pac-12 play he’s been excellent.”
If there's any consolation for UA, it's that Drew was not the only Bruin playing his last game at Pauley. Ben Howland says Shabazz Muhammad will leave and Kyle Anderson might not be around long, either.
But for now, Howland was raving about how much Muhammad has improved, after Muhammad hung on for a rebound and free throws that clinched Saturday's game.
Here's the official box score.
As onetime UA commit Abdul Gaddy finishes up at Washington, he tells the Seattle Times he wouldn't change anything about his college career.
Other Pac-12 games today:
WSU at Washington, 1:30 p.m. (FSN)
Utah at Stanford, 3 p.m. (Pac-12 Networks)