Arizona Basketball

Sean Miller compares Arizona’s battle to reach top to Detroit’s Bad Boys in 1980’s



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Sean Miller compares Arizona's battle to get over the hump to Detroit in the 1980's (ESPN video capture)

Sean Miller compares Arizona’s battle to get over the hump to Detroit in the 1980’s (ESPN video capture)

Arizona coach Sean Miller’s quest for that ever elusive Pac-12 tournament title and Final Four appearance has him thinking of Detroit’s Bad Boys in the 1980s.

Miller did not say on the Jim Rome Show today that he will coach the brash and bullying style of Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn and Dennis Rodman.

He knows the frustration Detroit experienced trying to get over the hump against the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference playoffs in 1985 and 1987. He marvels at the fortitude of Detroit to finally reach the NBA Finals in 1988 (in which the Pistons lost to the Lakers) and then ultimately win repeat titles in 1989 and 1990.


On the Jim Rome Show, Miller compared the direction of his program to what Chuck Daly endured with the Pistons before 1988. He is 0-3 in Pac-12 tournament championship games and 0-2 in Elite Eight games in his five years at Arizona.

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“We have a lot of similarities at Arizona to what the Pistons were kind of doing during that brief stint as they continued to get to the Eastern Conference final,” Miller told Rome. “They were hit with adversity and they were so close and it was taken away. I think part of what made them great was they had knocked on the door so many times that they had developed a toughness and a will that they wouldn’t be denied when their time came.

“Hopefully in our program that we have some of that. Because as you know a few years earlier, we lost to UConn in the Elite 8 had a chance to win it at the buzzer and missed that shot. So we’ve kind of left the Elite 8 on a missed buzzer shot and a tough block-charge call if you will. But I think for us, we’re excited about where we’re moving and hopefully what we’ve gone through will only develop that toughness and will that we will need to break through.”


Almost two months later, Arizona’s controversial loss to Wisconsin in the Elite Eight still resonates.

Rome opened the show asking about the charging call against Nick Johnson in the waning seconds of that loss. Johnson was whistled for the foul despite Wisconsin defender Josh Gasser not having a set defensive position.

Arizona regained possession after a Wisconsin turnover and Johnson could not get a shot off before time expired. However, if Gasser was instead called for the foul, Johnson would have gone to the free throw line. The Wildcats lost 64-63.

“I think the point of emphasis really from the onset September to October and in the fall, was really to take away the charge and if, in fact, you called an offensive charge that clearly the defender had to be set and really to get away from kind of impeding the dribbler’s progress. If you look at that call it was almost the complete opposite of the emphasis,” Miller told Rome. “But you know how that works at the end of the game is always put under a microscope especially in the NCAA Tournament and I’m sure there are a number of calls prior to that, if you’re a Wisconsin fan, you’d say they could have gone the other way.

“So we move and learn from it, I think we put ourselves in a position to be in the Final Four and in the NCAA Tournament you need big plays, great shots, and sometimes a little good fortune.”

You can tell the last-second misses by Derrick Williams and Jamelle Horne against UConn in 2011 and that charging call against Johnson cross Miller’s mind. The best way to handle that: Think of what’s ahead, not behind.

Rome wrapped up the interview by telling his listeners that Arizona will be better in 2014-15 than the Wildcats were this season despite the loss of Johnson and Aaron Gordon to the NBA. With Arizona having a starting lineup consisting of T.J. McConnell, Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski, no argument here.


— The Chicago Bears coaching staff is impressed with former Arizona Wildcats running back Ka’Deem Carey after initial workouts. Bears coach Marc Trestman: “Everybody’s talking about his speed, but he plays fast and he’s tough to take down.”

— Johnson, another Arizona Wildcats standout who like Carey left the UA after his junior season, had some travel difficulties but made it from Orlando to Oklahoma City for a workout with the Thunder tomorrow. He will then travel to Atlanta for a workout with the Hawks Thursday. He then has 10 more workouts scheduled over the next two weeks.

Rich Rodriguez’s recruiting coordinator — Matt Dudek — is showcasing the Arizona Wildcats’ program A to Z on his Instagram. The latest installment: Chris McAlister, who other than Ricky Hunley, is Arizona’s best shutdown defender in the program’s history.

— The Arizona Wildcats’ baseball team is not in the NCAA tournament (for the second consecutive year) but one of their former players will be coaching a team involved. North Dakota State coach Tod Brown, a standout reliever for Arizona in 1992 and 1993, will lead his team against overall No. 1 seed Oregon State on Friday in the Corvallis, Ore., Regional. publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.

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