The biggest questions with about 12 minutes left in the first half of Arizona’s game with Oregon State were: was Arizona going to find some kind of spark to get past the visiting Oregon State Beavers and, well, was Dave Heeke going to emerge from some corner of McKale Center and introduce the next head football coach?
Arizona (13-4, 3-1 in the Pac-12) found a way in the final 20 minutes to defeat OSU, 62-53, to return to its winning ways. And, Heeke was nowhere to be found so of course there was no announcement.
And, well, everyone lived so Friday will be another day.
But Miller, too, was concerned at halftime with UA down 22-21 with his team lethargic and sputtering for the first 20 minutes. It was a so-so half where the only thing good that happened was Arizona was able to recover from a 10-point deficit to make it close at the half.
“I was anxious to see us play in the second half,” Miller said. “…Could we break the game open and stay with it? Could we improve a little bit on offense?”
Yes and hell yes. And it was helped by its defense, something that has been called into question from time to time this season. And Arizona was eventually good enough and savvy enough to find a way to solve OSU’s zone. What Miller said is “you can’t lose your patience and you can’t become frustrated. You just have to stick with it.”
He added later: “We’re not the only team that’s going to go through tough patches against it. The more you play against it the more comfortable you are.”
Hasn’t it been the word on the street and in the stands or any arena that in order to beat Arizona just play a zone and your chances improve proportionately? That’s long been the word or the recipe.
“I thought last year, people were saying that Arizona’s weakness was zone,” said Rawle Alkins. “In the summer, that’s all we prepared for – was the zone. Right now, we’re getting back to it and we’re starting to see the zone a lot more. We’re getting into the mix of things and practicing every day.”
Practice makes perfect … even if they are baby steps. Getting wins helps. Thursday night, Arizona showed more effort on the defensive end and the offensive end, something Miller had stressed since his time in the Rocky Mountains.
“It was what I had hoped for,” Miller said, reiterating that his team has practiced hard. “Sometimes that’s what you need is the opportunity to learn and there is no better learning opportunity than when you fail. In my mind we took steps forward.”
And that’s all he can ask.
Miller said for his team to be the best team it can be it has “to be the hardest-playing team we can be. We’re learning that.”
It also needs its three best players to show up and be the players everyone thinks they can be. Freshman Deandre Ayton had his 12th double-double, tying a school record for double-doubles for a season (Michael Wright, Al Fleming). He had 14 points and 10 rebounds. Alkins had 11 points and surprisingly no rebounds (Miller was surprised about that).
And Allonzo Trier, coming off seven-point and eight-point games, had 21 points, 15 coming in the key second half.
“That’s a quiet 21 (points),” Miller said. “We have to help him get a couple of better looks the first eight to 10 minutes. He’s been good at letting the game come to him. Now it’s up to our staff where we have to trigger a few shots where we can get him and our team going. The second half was better than his first and that’s been his pattern.”
Much like Arizona’s this season. No matter how you look at it, Arizona got the win … and, well, is still looking for a football coach. Guess you can’t have everything.