Sean Miller talked about Arizona’s lack of confidence more than once in the press conference following the 73-71 loss to Xavier in the Sweet 16 game at San Jose, Calif., on Thursday night.
Miller also took responsibility for the loss because “the game never really felt good.”
“That’s on me,” he said.
Concerning Arizona’s lack of confidence, Miller said, “You know, our team never really ever established great confidence against the zone. And I think in some ways that was the reason, defensively, that we weren’t as good as we usually are or maybe better than we needed to be.”
Instead of attacking, Arizona resorted many times to shoot over Xavier’s 2-3 zone and finished making only seven of their season-high 27 3-point attempts.
Markkanen, forecast to be an NBA lottery pick, hardly became part of the execution, making only three of the nine shots he took, six of them from 3-point range. He did not attempt a field goal in the last 11:29.
When asked about his team’s breakdown on offense after taking an eight-point lead with less than four minutes remaining, Miller blamed the defense.
“When you’re under the four-minute mark and you have teams fighting to stay alive, you have to jump,” Miller said. “You have to run at them. You have to close out with great effort. You have to make them miss. You have to understand that even a 2 is better than a 3. And we didn’t do that. And they made the shots.
“From an offensive perspective, we had both going the wrong way. And did we get great shots? … We weren’t able to get great looks down the stretch or a wide open one. And that’s not these guys. That’s on me. We have to be more comfortable this late in the season against that type of defense and we really just never quite established a rhythm that I think we needed to continue to play.”
Miller was asked about not having a timeout in the waning seconds because he called timeouts before the allotted media timeouts earlier in the second half.
“We were struggling,” said Miller, whose team finished 32-5 overall. “We didn’t have a lot of confidence. We moved our lineup. We went small. And we had a burst where it looked pretty good. And then all of a sudden they would change defenses and we didn’t have the right group in.
“But when you’re a coach, you can tell when your team’s not confident. You can tell when your team needs some direction and help. And I called those timeouts because of that. Everybody focuses at the very, very end, but there were times when those timeouts really helped us. And, again, sometimes on those timeouts we needed to reorganize our defense. We had as hard of a time defending them as any team that we’ve played against this season.
“We had really no answers, including — they had a high-low, one-foot shot, basically, to put them up. And, again, they execute. They do such a great job of getting their players shots. And they did a better job of that than I did.”
Miller will enter his 14th season as a head coach in November still in search of that elusive Final Four trip. He coached five seasons at Xavier before his hire at Arizona in 2009.
Arizona has now gone 16 straight seasons without reaching the Final Four.
“Our goal and aspiration is always to challenge for a Final Four and get there,” Miller said. “And we pulled up short.”
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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.