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Charles Barkley talked about it. So did Chris Webber. Len Elmore agreed.
“No Easy Buckets” Kevin Parrom was taken aback by it. No-nonsense Solomon Hill, a potential coach with his basketball smarts, could not fathom it.
Kelvin Eafon, selected by this Web site as one of Arizona’s baddest bad asses on the football field, chimed in.
The consensus: Arizona lacked toughness.
The tougher team won — words mentioned often — in Wichita State’s 65-55 victory Thursday night over the Wildcats, Sean Miller’s first ouster in the first round of the NCAA tournament in five March Madness appearances at Arizona.
Miller once again uttered these words — “They were better than us” — after the loss. Wichita State had the kind of grit and leadership from its senior guards Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker that Arizona once had when Hill teamed with Nick Johnson.
Hill tweeted this:
always loved the intensity of coach miller, but he can't want it more than the players…
“They’re like when a guy punches you in the mouth and you say, ‘Why did you hit me?’ instead of going after him,” Barkley said of Arizona at halftime when the Wildcats trailed 31-19.
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Looking good, Sean Miller pic.twitter.com/JH5mMSdwRG
“Times like this you need a leader to look you in the eye,” Webber said after the second half started and Arizona was down by 16 points. “It’s time for a leader to step up.”
Elmore said, “Looking at Arizona, I don’t see that guy.”
No T.J. McConnell. No Nick Johnson. No Jason Gardner. No Jason Terry. No Miles Simon. No Reggie Geary. No Damon Stoudamire. No Sean Elliott. No Steve Kerr. … No toughness.
Parrom tweeted this during the game:
Do they want to win?
Coach Miller is playing harder and he is not even on the court smh
GIVE COACH A JERSEY
Much was made of Miller’s sweat-drenched white dress shirt by halftime. That image contrasted with how his team played. They had a problem all season embodying his ferocious, intense character, which is uncommon from his teams dating to his Xavier years.
Eafon, a former Lute Olson recruit who once drew praise from Dick Tomey that he wished he had a team full of Eafons, exhibited some frustration in his voice about Arizona’s tenacity (or lack thereof) when he said this during the postgame radio show on KCUB 1290-AM:
“I played,” Eafon said. “You turn the ball over when you don’t attack. … How are you going to score when you are afraid of turning it over?”
Arizona had 19 turnovers, seven by starting point guard Kadeem Allen — who had one more than Wichita State had as a team. The junior college transfer was making his first NCAA tournament start against VanVleet, a veteran of 12 March Madness games now, including a Final Four appearance as a freshman in 2013.
Wichita State was 35-0 before losing in the 2014 Sweet 16 with VanVleet as the starting point guard. The Shockers shocked second-seeded in-state rival Kansas last year in the NCAA tournament to reach the Sweet 16 again.
Did the NCAA tournament selection committee make the mistake of having Gregg Marshall’s team a No. 11 seed facing Arizona in the first round as opposed to later rounds? No question. Wichita State obviously deserved to at least be on Arizona’s seed line.
Arizona can’t cry about that. The Wildcats had their opportunity to prove they should be the higher seed from a power conference. If they advanced, Miller’s team would have to play a team as good or better than Wichita State anyway.
The Wildcats were not tough enough to make it happen. That’s not only the media’s conclusion. That was summarized by athletes who played the game (Barkley, Webber, Elmore, Parrom and Eafon).
Parrom later tweeted this:
I remember my freshman year we all stayed that entire summer as a team and got better everyday! That sophmore year we was a top 10 team
Miller made this comment:
#Arizona Sean Miller: "For us, it's important to land a great recruiting class. We need to hit it out of the park in the next month"
The recruiting class must not only include talent — which it already does with three five-star recruits either signed or committed. The incoming players must embody Miller’s tough characteristic.
Eafon said he welcomes the thought of hungry-to-win five-star players coming in because they have a swagger about them.
The word swagger and Arizona did not mix this season.
For Arizona to regain its tough image, the kind of character Miller has prided himself on, the Wildcats not only need that swag but they need an iron will.
They need a get-in-your-face leader.
They need players who will sweat for all they can get more than their coach.
ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.