Most of what Sean Miller told ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt on Tuesday night Arizona fans have already heard.
What is significant is the Wildcats’ 96-85 victory over No. 3 UCLA on Saturday has put Arizona back in the national limelight in a positive way after tough sledding earlier this season and last with injuries, personnel issues and an early exit from last year’s NCAA tournament.
The Wildcats (18-2 overall and tied for first in the Pac-12 at 7-0) are ranked No. 7 in the AP Top 25 poll, poised to move into the Top 5 with the struggling Washington schools coming to McKale Center this week and No. 1 Villanova, No. 2 Kansas and No. 4 Kentucky all losing on Tuesday.
Miller was a guest on ESPN’s “Sports Center with Scott Van Pelt” show and he fielded questions regarding the win over UCLA, the addition of Allonzo Trier and the impact of Lauri Markkanen.
Miller’s comments to Van Pelt on those topics:
What was the most satisfying part of beating UCLA?
“Our overall poise in the game. We played that game with seven turnovers. That’s really hard to do. Pauley Pavilion was electric and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was honored at halftime. Obviously, Steve Alford has a great team. I don’t know if I’ve seen a better offensive team in my time as a coach. So you go into that atmosphere you have to have a lot of good things go your way to be successful and it kind of all came together for us last Saturday including finally having an opportunity to have Allonzo Trier joining us this season.”
How will it go working Trier into the rotation?
“The one silver-lining we’ve had is you have to remember with Allonzo is he practiced with us every day. The only thing he didn’t do is play in games and that included travel. He was able to travel. He was not injured. We always treated him as if he was one day away or one week away from joining us and I think that was a great decision because now that he’s able to play in games, although it is still different and roles have to be redefined and you add that into the mix, it’s not like adding somebody that nobody’s familiar with. To Allonzo’s credit, you learn a lot about kids when the chips are down and things aren’t going their way and his character was really revealed through all of this. He was great during games. He worked hard. He did extra. He kept his head high hoping he would get this opportunity. Even on Saturday when he got the opportunity, he had four assists and he had seven rebounds. He did some other things that a year ago as a freshman he wouldn’t have done. I think that’s a good sign for both him and our team.”
Are you pleasantly surprised at what kind of ceiling Lauri Markkanen’s shown in high level games?
“We knew how talented he was especially his skill level but the thing that’s striking about him is his size. He’s 7-feet tall and 230 pounds. He’s not 6’7”. He’s that big guy that can shoot. And the other thing I can tell you is regardless of who you compare him to he can shoot. He’s a great shooter. Right now, he’s shooting 60 percent from the 3-point line in conference play … over 80 percent from the foul line … over 50 percent from the field. He leads us in rebounding. When you talk about the best freshmen who are playing college basketball he clearly deserves to be put in that category. He’s been tremendous for us and he’s really done it, Scott, when our deck hasn’t been full. We’ve gone through injuries. Allonzo really would have helped him initially but Lauri’s kind of found his way to success with two other freshmen (Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons) and a younger team and Kadeem Allen and Parker Jackson-Cartwright as mainly the two returners. It’s to his credit and we are obviously thrilled to have him.”
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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.