It took Sean Miller one minute, 20 seconds to tell the gathered media after Thursday night’s game he would not be answering any questions involving things off the court.
It proved to be his best defense on Thursday night.
His team had little of it in the crucial second half in a 67-60 loss to Pac-12 Conference-leading Washington at McKale Center. Arizona has now lost four consecutive games for the first time since the 2008-09 season when Russ Pennell and Mike Dunlap coached the team. UA is now 14-9 overall and 5-5 in the Pac-12.
It isn’t like some of the media didn’t try to get in there with a penetrating question or two or three. He abruptly said he was done six minutes into the postgame press conference after ESPN’s Mark Swartz of “Outside the Lines” asked Miller about his level of concern about possibly being subpoenaed in the Christian Dawkins trail in April.
That proved to be Miller’s fast break.
He did say that he supported the statements from UA in relieving the duties of his top assistant Mark Phelps. Something the Arizona Board of Regents echoed on Thursday afternoon. But, of course, that’s off the court.
On the court, his more pressing problem is: his Wildcats have lost three games at McKale for the first time since the 2011-12 season when it lost four. Yes, it’s come that and the Arizona program where Miller’s team is outmanned almost every week and game.
Sean Miller exits the press room after questions related to off-the-court matters pic.twitter.com/SOov0TX3EJ
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) February 8, 2019
It clearly was against Washington, staying close for maybe 30 minutes only to falter in the final 10 minutes as Washington found holes and the basket for a double-digit lead that Arizona had a hard time chipping away at.
“We definitely ran out of gas,” Miller said, of his defense and the lack of depth trying to play it. “Part of it is we need Chase Jeter to play and not get into foul trouble … Washington does a good job of throwing the ball in the middle …”
His point was Jeter, who came on strong in the first half with eight quick, strong points, picked up two fouls and then Washington began to play him differently making sure he had rare looks at the basket.
And when he couldn’t score, well, his teammates couldn’t either. Yet, wasn’t Arizona the team that went 14 for 28 from beyond the 3-point line just a week ago?
“We’re not a great shooting team,” Miller said, something he has said so often this year. “There’s a lot of evidence to support that. We’ve had our moments every once in a while, where it seems just one of our players seems to carry us through.”
Video: Hear from Arizona co-captains Justin Coleman and Chase Jeter after tonight's loss to Washington https://t.co/OjcanmSzhX
— GOAZCATS.com (@GOAZCATScom) February 8, 2019
And it just didn’t happen. Dylan Smith tried, hitting 3 of 5 from distance but the rest of the team went 1 for 13. And we all know Smith isn’t going to win many games for you or your Cats.
Washington didn’t even play that well, so one wonders how did they become the one team to go 10-0 in the league – so far? It’s likely that extended 2-3 zone defense and a group of veteran players who know how to play or have just enough – and right – moves to win games.
“They are the best defensive team in our conference,” Miller said. “They play their zone very well.”
It proved to be too much for Arizona, a team that looks lost on and off the court given all the circumstances. It shot 40 percent from the floor in the first half and 35 percent in the second half. It had 20 turnovers and went 4 for 18 from the arc. Everything looked out of sync and out of service. Then again, these have been some of the toughest times since, um, well, last year when all the news broke about the FBI investigation. It’s been a drip, drip, drip of water torture here in the desert with no relief in sight.