As part of his workday Tuesday, Arizona coach Sean Miller was asked to join a telephonic publicity event for a Basketball Hall of Fame doubleheader that will pit Arizona against Gonzaga on Saturday in Los Angeles.
Didn’t sound like he was really into it.
“I haven’t fast-forwarded to them yet,” Miller said of Gonzaga.
While making respectful comments about the Zags and the doubleheader, the UA coach managed to work in the fact that he still had a “lot of regrets” about Arizona’s 69-65 loss to Butler on Friday. He also talked about the academic pressure his players are under this week as the fall semester wraps up, and he noted that their more immediate game is of real concern.
Texas Southern, after all, has already won four road games and will bring three high-major talents into McKale Center on Wednesday in guard Zach Lofton, guard Dulani Robinson and forward Derrick Griffin.
“Texas Southern would be more than happy to take their record to 5-2 and hand us our first home loss of the season,” Miller said.
Maybe it was all just coach-speak, a way of keeping his players on track mentally in between a loss to Butler and the Gonzaga showdown. But Miller offered plenty of evidence that it’s much more than that.
While UA players were not made available for comment during the school’s news conference later Tuesday, Miller elaborated about what’s really on his mind this week during an occasionally technical half-hour address.
Among other things, Miller indicated:
1. Lauri Markkanen’s defensive fouls against Butler’s ball screens, leading to his foul out with 3:10 to go, are making Miller reconsider how to best deploy his talented big freshman from Finland.
“It’s something I have great regrets about,” Miller said. “Butler, because of their style, they may set as many as four or five screens (per possession), and they’re very patient, they’re experienced, and with Lauri we had no choice: He was going to guard a very experienced player. … We’ve tried to prepare them on the importance of if you head to a screen, be early and if for whatever reason you’re late, don’t hedge. Lauri wanted to do things the right way but in his best attempt to get there, he was late, and when you’re late, a lot of times you’re going to be called for a foul.
“Now that it’s happened, he understands the importance of executing it the right way, and as a coaching staff (you see that) the value of what he does offensively supersedes at times what we want him to do on defense. We have to adjust to that.”
2. Center Chance Comanche’s occasional offensive fouls are more costly than they might seem.
“He’s getting called for one offensive foul per game whether it’s posting up or setting a screen,” Miller said. “That has two things attached — one, it’s an offensive foul and two, it’s a turnover; we don’t get a shot. So with Chance it’s more about him learning what’s a foul and what’s not a foul. It’s helping him adjust. Because if you shoot 50 percent from the field (and you don’t get a shot) that’s one point per game (on average) you can get if you just eliminate that one thing. Right now, there are several things we have to work on. It’s about being better at everything we do.”
3. Of the Wildcats’ 16 turnovers Friday, seven of them were a result of offensive fouls, though that may be partly a result of factors other than themselves. Despite publicity over recent rules changes to create more offensive “freedom of movement,” Miller said (with apparent sarcasm) that he’s now teaching his guys to more physically defend drivers, since Butler managed to pick up so many charges while doing so.
“The cross-body block is one heck of a thing,” Miller said of Butler’s defensive tactic. “If you can run a thousand miles an hour, lunge at the dribbler, fall down and get a charge, you know that’s something we’re gonna do on every possession. That’s going to ruin the game of college basketball. But … Butler’s ability to get offensive fouls on Arizona was as big a reason we lost as any other. So we’re working on it.”
4. More patience will also help cut down on offensive fouls, maybe even reduce the 2.8 turnovers per game that aggressive freshman Rawle Alkins is averaging.
“We have to learn when to drive, when not to drive, when to stop and pass,” Miller said. “There are times when we don’t have enough ball movement, and one of our guys, usually one of the younger guys, tries to just take his man, and that used to work. That’s not gonna work in college basketball, especially against Butler.
“You can’t just catch the ball on a first, second or third pass against a good team and take your man. It’s not set up for success. Kobi (Simmons, UA freshman guard) and Rawle know that now more than ever because of what they just went through.”
5. Although point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright had two turnovers and a missed layup in the final 2:24 against Butler, Miller said the Wildcats’ ineffectiveness down the stretch was “also on his coach for not having the team organized.” Miller said he went with a smaller lineup featuring Comanche and four smaller players, but should have gone with a more normal big lineup.
“One thing we felt good about (last season) was that of our nine losses, maybe several were on the last play, but we fought to get into that position,” Miller said. “We didn’t blow a lead to be in that position. This last game was one you could really point to that we did. To have the ball and be up four that late (with less than four minutes left), that’s usually been a winner for us, and we came unglued, all of us became a little bit rattled when it happened.
“We learned from it, we talked about it, and that situation is going to come up again throughout our season. Hopefully we’ll be that much more ready for it next time.”