Arizona coach Sean Miller used the word “thrilled” in describing how it felt to get back on the winning track. As it should, given it’s been since Jan. 19 UA has had the thrill of victory.
“It wasn’t about who we were playing,” Miller said. “We needed a win.”
And – finally – Arizona got one. It is now 15-12 overall and 6-8 in the Pac-12.
“It feels good,” said Ryan Luther, after UA defeated California 76-51 in McKale Center. He had a game-high 19 points. “Losing seven in a row is tough but no one in the locker room gave up or were pointing fingers. We stayed together and played hard.”
Make it three games in a row, apparently. Last week, in two losses, even Miller, ever the critical one, felt his team was due for something good this week. Whether it was because his team was to face a team reeling more than his or that he saw enough positives signs to feel good about his team chances is the question.
What does it matter now? Arizona broke a streak that dated back to the 1983-84 season. Thursday night the game was never really in doubt, although both teams struggled from the floor to score points early in the game, then again, what do you expect from two teams that have combined for a 0-20 record in Pac-12 play in last month-plus?
Arizona final broke free late in the first half.
Good play came in the form of Luther – again. The player who has seemingly gotten it lately in as much as he’s playing his best basketball in an Arizona uniform.
“My teammates and coaches do a good job of putting me in the right spots,” Luther said, using the usual line when a player gets hot. “(I’m) shooting with confidence, playing with confidence, playing off each other. It’s a product of that.”
It didn’t hurt to finally take the advice of Miller to get the message.
“We had our epiphany moment with Ryan against Washington,” Miller said. “He’s such a great kid, unselfish to a fault … off the court that’s awesome. On the court, it’s his ability to shoot it on a team that doesn’t shoot well. When he gives up open threes and makes a pass to a player who has a worse percentage than him that’s really selfish when you think about it. Once it was framed to him like that and go through the numbers … the responsibility is to take every open shot he can get. If he goes 0 for 10 those are good shots for Arizona.
“We need more players for Arizona to shoot more like him.”
They kind of did against California, one of the worst Pac-10/12 teams ever. Well Devonaire Doutrive did, hitting 2 of 4 3s to go with Luther’s 5 of 8 from beyond the 3-point line.
“Devonaire making a couple was awesome,” Miller said.
Every shot mattered, although Miller said a couple of times there were plenty of good and bad moments to reflect on. He did say that he was expecting his team to play better than it did, given it had good practices lately.
“We’ve just had a hard time playing really good for 40 minutes, and those breakdowns kill you,” Miller said. “We had breakdowns tonight. Cal wasn’t able to take advantage of some of them, but on Sunday, Stanford will.”
But that game can wait. Thursday night, it was mostly about Luther’s play, given he played very well on the perimeter. And had the play of the night on a drive and dunk to the basket.
He faked the shot and went in for the dunk, giving UA a 49-35 lead.
“I mean, obviously I made a few 3s, so they were contesting pretty hard,” Luther said. “And the guy just flew by me, so I was able to put on a floor and, you know, score it, but I guess my teammates had a few jokes for that.”
His teammates and his coach had jokes, actually.
“When he jumps, I never think he’s going to dunk,” Miller said, in a rare humorous moment. “I think the ball’s gonna hit the front of the rim and he’s gonna land right on his back. But he surprises you once in a while, for sure.”
See what a win does … laughter all around.