Arizona Basketball

Arizona Wildcats coach Miller: Team “work in progress” but proud of effort

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LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Arizona Wildcats Sean Miller did not spend much time in the locker room after his team’s first loss of the season Friday night.

He was out of there and on the postgame radio show in less than 10 minutes.

The Wildcats had a tight schedule to get on their charter flight back to Tucson. And besides, the 69-65 loss to Butler — which would challenge for the Pac-12 title if it was in the league — was not something he had to browbeat his team about.

The calendar shows the date of Nov. 25 with more than three months left in the season.

“We lost to a very good basketball team,” Miller said. “Butler will be a team in the NCAA tournament. They have a lot of experience. They are a little further along at this point than we are with that experience.

“We played through foul trouble. We had to play through some adversity. We didn’t play well at times but our effort was outstanding. That was the most important thing. When you do that, you learn from it.”

Butler sustained a 15-2 run by Arizona that gave the Wildcats a 61-57 lead with 3:52 remaining on a layup by freshman guard Kobi Simmons, who had eight points in that surge. Simmons scored all 14 of his points after halftime.

“It took a lot of fight to get that four-point lead,” Miller said.

Arizona’s season leading scorer Lauri Markkanen, who had a team-high 15 points, fouled out with 3:10 remaining. Butler proceeded to go on a 12-2 run to take control of the game.

“Lauri played through foul trouble and had some tough calls go against him,” Miller said. “He was not able to assert himself. A couple of fouls he probably could have controlled by being where he was supposed to be.”

Butler junior guard Kelan Martin, a preseason All-Big East selection, scored a game-high 16 points and had a key assist late to forward Tyler Wideman, who took the pass in the lane, made the dunk and was fouled by Kadeem Allen.

Wideman converted the 3-point play with 29 seconds left to give Butler a 66-63 lead.

Simmons missed a three-pointer and Allen quickly fouled Butler forward Andrew Chrabascz, who made one of two free throw attempts to increase the lead to 67-63 with 10 seconds left.

Allen was fouled on a drive and missed two free throws with five seconds remaining in Arizona’s last gasp.

“Very seldom when we’ve been up, have we self-destructed like we did today,” Miller said. “We self-destructed in the last three minutes on virtually every possession. We weren’t able to have the poise to move the ball and to get the right shot.”

What also helped turn the tide in Butler’s late run was Holtmann switching to a zone defense, which seemed to disrupt Arizona’s offensive flow. The Wildcats went 1 for 7 from the field and committed three turnovers during Butler’s rally.

“We had to calm down a little bit and do what we do after we went down by four,” Holtmann said. “Players make plays and they did. We had to play within ourselves. We told them to move the ball offensively we told them we were going to switch the defense late.

“We told them to focus on the possession at hand really.”

Miller, whose team finished making only 3 of 11 3-pointers, including 0 for 3 in the second half, said his players “were dysfunctional offensively” down the stretch.

“We were not a smart team late in the game,” he said. “They came out of a time out and switched to a zone and we lost our poise. We forced a shot. We had a couple of turnovers and they were a byproduct of trying to do something individually instead of as a group.”

Arizona next hosts Southern Texas on Wednesday before playing against No. 11 Gonzaga on Dec. 3 in Los Angeles. Butler travels to Utah for a game Monday night.

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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.

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