The Xavier team that reached the 2004 NCAA Elite Eight, losing to Duke by only three points, had a staff that was headed by Thad Matta and assisted by Sean Miller, John Groce and Alan Major.

Combined, the four men are 32-1 so far this season as head coaches (Matta is at Ohio State, Groce at Illinois and Major at Charlotte).

Only Matta has a loss, from when Ohio State lost at Duke.

“He has got to pick it up,” Miller said of Matta, laughing, during an ESPNU podcast released today. “What was wrong with him?”

Seriously, though, Miller told podcast hosts Andy Katz and Seth Greenberg that the assistants learned from Matta how to bring out the most in a team by making the long season as enjoyable as possible.

“More than anything, Thad has a unique way to coach the game, to allow his team to enjoy being coached and enjoy the ride of a long season,” Miller said. “We all have our own personalities, but he’s somebody who really has the pulse of his team and when you watch his teams play and practice they enjoy it.

“It’s not always fun -- it’s never fun to lose -- but there’s a lot be said today with so much pressure and so much criticism and everybody’s watching every single game, to be able to improve your team, to coach them and allow them to enjoy that ride. All of us got that from being around him.”

During his 13-minute interview on the podcast (Miller starts at the 20-minute mark if you want to listen by going to this page) Miller also discussed:

Mark Lyons’ impact.

“Things are contagious inside of a team. You have guys who have incredible confidence and toughness. Not confidence when you walk around after the game, but what you do when the going gets tough and you can’t fake that. Mark Lyons has arguably been in as many big games as any player who’s playing this season.

“The other part of it is you can’t the personality out of a point guard. I knew when he came here he wasn’t going to be a four assist to one turnover guy. I think we can get him better and he’ll get better as he has more opportunity to play with this year’s team but what he brings to the table is a guy who can score, can shoot from that position, and somebody who never ever backs down. And its amazing as he has that, how other teammates can kind of take that personality on a little bit easier.”

Solomon Hill’s contributions.

“He means everything. There’s not a player I want to be more successful than Solomon. He’s a throwback guy. Every coach would cheer for Solomon because he came in every highly recruited, and even though he’s been a key part of all four teams, it didn’t happen right away for Solomon. If you  evaluate him as a sophomore, he was better than as a freshman, last year he became an all Pac-12 player. Then you say, `How does he go to where he was to even better as a senior?’ His body is 218 pounds, and at some times he’s been 240.

“A year ago, Gonzaga and San Diego State really dared him to shoot. If you can imagine, Gonzaga guarded him with (7-footer Robert) Sacre. And now he’s probably our team’s best three-point shooter and it’s because he’s put in the old fashioned time type of work in the off-season. He’s hungry to finish is career off and he has a burning desire to win. Kind of like Mark Lyons,  he kind of galvanizes (the team)… all of sudden you have two guys with a lot at stake in their senior year and that’s a healthy thing to have on a team.”

UA fans.

“We have incredible tradition.  We when we have a home game, there’s 14,500 people there whether it’s Long Beach State in the third game of the season or if we’re playing Florida on Saturday.  If you look around college basketball, it’s amazing how so many high major programs who have good transitions or good teams don’t have that game-in and game-out. Tucson is one of those special places to be in. They care a lot about college basketball. I’m lucky to be here and I hope we can continue to grow and be better.”

On the matchup with Florida.

“Watching them they remind me a lot of Maryland a few years back when Steve Blake and Juan Dixon and those guys were playing. They have two things that are just really difficult. One, they’re an amazing passing team, with Patric Young, their center (and others), they share the ball and they pass it so easily they’re just clever and the shots they’re able to create, I mean they are really unselfish and you can tell that Billy (Donovan) has really made that an emphasis, because as talented as their individual players are, their team is even better.

“They’ve really made that a team that’s even better on the defensive end. The reason I compare them to Maryland is they test you in all phases -- you take the ball underneath your own basket and they’re trying to trap and create turnovers. Their zone is really aggressive and their man-to-man is really aggressive. You have to concentrate for 40 minutes because they’re such a good passing team that when they get out in transition its two points and sometimes three points.”


WSU's Brock Motum beat out UA's Nick Johnson and ASU's Jordan Bachynski for the Pac-12 Player of the Week award.

Motum had 23 points, eight rebounds and three blocks in a close loss to Gonzaga and led the Cougars to a win over Fresno State.

Bachynski led ASU to a win over Cal State Northridge with the first triple-double in school history (13 points, 12 rebounds, 12 blocks).

Johnson averaged 18 points, four rebounds and 4.5 steals in UA's wins over Southern Miss and Clemson.

FWIW, UA spokesman Richard Paige said Andre Iguodala did not receive the Pac-10's Player of the Week award after any of his three triple-doubles during the 2003-04 season.


Arizona stayed at No. 8 in both major Top 25 polls while Florida moved up to No. 5.


Florida is in the middle of a long break before playing at Arizona on Saturday, having not played since Dec. 5, when the Gators beat Florida State.


Spencer Dinwiddie says Kansas players were "humiliating us" in Colorado's blowout loss.


Cal's Mike Montgomery wasn't happy the Bears made just 13 of 28 free throws against UNLV.


Jeff Withey has already graduated from Kansas. Wonder if any of his UA credits transferred along with him in December 2008 ...

Sportswriter for the Arizona Daily Star covering Arizona Wildcats basketball