You have to love – or at least enjoy – a Sean Miller press conference. There’s always a message with a purpose.
Thursday – more than 48 hours before Arizona’s meeting of the ages with Arizona State – was no different.
He said ASU has a chance to be a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament and “a heavy favorite in our conference.”
The statement was so strong it prompted a follow up.
“They have all the parts,” he said. “They really do. Experience and guard play … They play a style and pace that are very difficult to play against.”
And there you have it. There’s coach talk and then there’s Miller Talk. He’s officially sounded the alarms to his team – and his fans – that they’ve been put on notice for what he calls “a big test on Saturday.”
Heck, it’s the biggest meeting with ASU since Damon Stoudamire faced Mario Bennett in 1995 (BTW, ASU was good enough to beat UA). Heck two, before the press conference started the Arizona Daily Star’s Greg Hansen threw out it might be the biggest game in 30 years.
If ticket requests are any indication it just might be. Everyone wants one – despite knowing this game was on the schedule months ago. It does rival a visit from North Carolina (game meant nothing though), Connecticut, defending champion Michigan State, UCLA (a number of times), LSU and Shaquille O’Neal. Or how about the last time Bobby Hurley came into McKale Center … as a player at Duke in 1991?
All big games to be sure, but this one involves good vs. evil – and everything else. This is rivalry on steroids.
What’s very clear is Arizona needs to prevent what ASU does very well: stop the 3-pointer and prevent it from getting into the lane for easy baskets. Do I need to remind you that Arizona’s two biggest weaknesses are just that? Does Miller like where he’s at in preventing each?
“No,” he said. “It’s a big problem. I don’t who you have defensively but no one has been able to keep them off the free throw line and to stop them in transition.”
Xavier couldn’t. Kansas State didn’t. And mighty Kansas couldn’t.
But on paper Arizona matches up well with ASU, particularly on the perimeter. Allonzo Trier, Rawle Alkins, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Brandon Randolph, Dylan Smith all seem capable. Aren’t they some of the reasons why Arizona started the season No. 2 in the country?
Miller went as far as hinting his players might not match up and as for the depth, well, that too is questionable.
“We will see at the end of the game on Saturday,” he said, straight faced.
As far as depth, he’s still trying to figure out who to play. “And that’s not a good thing,” he said.
“Our starting guards have to do a good job (and) our team and big guys … our bench has to be able to defend and be able to respond and be responsible in a game like this,” Miller said. “You can’t be that player who checks into the game and gives up four baskets. You don’t have to be perfect but you have to understand that this is a very difficult challenge to prevent them from having that big night offensively.”
That’s how strange – and exciting – this game truly is. It’s a change of places for each team. Over the last 30-plus years it’s been Arizona as the hunted and ASU the hunter. Rare has it been the other way around. Typically it’s ranked Arizona vs. unranked or lower ranked ASU.
Talk about role reversal.
“They deserve the credit,” Miller said. “Sometimes coaches have a hard time giving the other coach or program credit. It (seemingly) reflects poorly on you. The better they do people ask ‘why aren’t you ranked higher?’ They have earned the right to be the No. 3 team in the country.”