Yes, Sean Miller has a sense of humor. Deep down – where he rarely goes – he can crack a dry joke or pull a sly smirk. He’s actually very good at the smirk thing.
He did late Saturday night when asked about the NCAA’s first in-season Selection Show. He said he was just happy to see Arizona on picked for the upcoming NCAA tournament. It meant Arizona was good enough to be a seed that made it in the top 16 seeds.
Arizona was a No. 3 seed in the Midwest, apparently the top No. 3 seed among four.
Did he like where UA was placed? Of course, Miller was diplomatic about it, saying it could all change and that it likely changed after Saturday’s action.
“I’m glad we were on the TV,” he said. “It’s a good testament for the program. We will take it.”
He continued: “I’m just glad I saw Arizona out there. There are so many good teams so just to be one of the 16 is good. There’s only one date that matters and that’s the real selection Sunday.”
He did say that UA took a “step forward” to get better on Saturday night after its 62-57 win against California.
Then came the question that drew laughs. When longtime Wildcats’ reporter Bruce Pascoe asked him how he felt with Oregon being a number two seed, ahead of UA which is the leader of the conference, Miller gave a couple of quirky facial expressions and then said:
“Were you at the Oregon game?” Of course, the room busted out with laughter given Oregon’s 85-58 win over UA last week. “I’m surprised they even put us on TV … I was there.”
It’s obvious the Selection Committee’s lasting impression of Arizona was that one-sided loss. Maybe, just maybe, Saturday’s impression helped.
Here are three things they may have noticed:
Arizona’s dynamic duo was MIA
Lauri Markkanen went 1 for 5 from the floor and missed two free throws. He finished with six points, the most points by any Arizona player in the second half. Allonzo Trier had three points, going 0 for 5 from the floor. His points came in the final minutes.
You wondered with those two struggling, how would Arizona win if that was to happen? But it did.
Markkanen, for whatever reason, is still struggling. He’s now 4 for 25 in his last four games. He’s 4 for 13 from beyond the 3-point line in that same time frame.
“He had a tough night but he competed,” Miller said. “We have to find a way to help him out on offense. He has to do it as well.”
Part of his problem was he picked up two quick fouls and sat out the final 16 minutes of the first half. “That’s very difficult to put that behind you, and all of a sudden come out in the second half and play great,” Miller said.
Miller said to have both of them in foul trouble and play the way they did was very good. Well, good enough to get the win.
Arizona is atop the Pac-12 standings
When the week started Arizona was in second place in the Pac-12 after getting crushed by Oregon last week. Then the Ducks lost to UCLA on Thursday. Now, Arizona is back on top. A lot can still happen to the standings given how Arizona has been up-and-down in recent weeks.
How does Miller feel about being at the top?
“We can’t focus on that; we have to take care of what’s ahead of us,” Miller said. “There are two incredible teams in our conference UCLA and Oregon. I don’t know if we are in that group.”
And then there are others. Cal, USC and Utah.
Miller said he’s just worried about the next couple of games as UA heads to Washington this week.
“It feels good right now, but we still have five games to play. We can’t overlook any team,” said Kadeem Allen, when asked about the feeling of being in first place.
Kobi hasn’t lost confidence
Freshman guard Kobi Simmons has been moved to the sixth-man role after starting more than 20 games. It looks like he doesn’t mind the role. He’s playing just about two minutes less than he did when he was starting. But with the return of Allonzo Trier he’s now the spark off the bench.
“It’s the same mindset when I was starting, that’s how I feel about it,” he said when asked how he feels about his new role. “Whatever is best for the team. I don’t really mind. I just want to win. That’s all that matters at the end of the day. It’s the same mindset coming in: do your job, everyone does their job collectively as a team and we get the W.”
Miller said Simmons, who is averaging 11.2 points a game, has adjusted well to the new role. In fact, Simmons was the spark UA needed on Saturday night. He led the team with 13 points, hitting 5 of 8 shots. He hit two 3-pointers.
Miller said Simmons is one of the best freshmen in the country and Arizona wouldn’t be 23-3 if he wasn’t on the team.
Miller said Simmons is becoming more comfortable against the zone and he’s getting better at defending shooters.
“His attitude has been great,” Miller said. “You hope it works, you hope he takes it well (coming off the bench). But it doesn’t always happen. His attitude is great. He waits for his opportunity. He was probably the player of the game.”
Miller added that it was good to see him play 23 minutes and have no turnovers and three assists.
“He shot with confidence, played with confidence and played really hard,” Miller said.