Arizona Basketball

Lesson learned in Win over South Dakota State? … To be determined

There was no run and no stun in McKale Center on Thursday night against South Dakota State.

And, well, I think Sean Miller was OK with it.

Maybe.

Kind of.

Instead, McKale was a lab for learning for the young Wildcats and perhaps its coach.

The clear lesson was that we’ll see if there was a lesson learned on Sunday against Long Beach State.

What Arizona found out was it’s not as good as it thinks it is. It can’t shoot as well as it thinks it can. And, it’s hardly efficient when it tries to run-and-stun with nearly every possession.

Miller said it several times: what does pace and tempo do/mean when you don’t play smart or play as a team? A “circus” act with a bunch of “carnival” shots.

The result was Thursday’s 71-64 win in a game that was closer than its final margin.

You want this team to run? Well, it’ll be on Miller’s terms.

Arizona coach Sean Miller barking out instructions to his team in a tough win over South Dakota State. (Photo courtesy Matt Moreno, GoAzCats.com)

“You want us to play really fast though,” Miller retorted to my question whether this is a game he can make a point about to get better. “Did we score enough? Right now, playing fast is going to happen because we are good in the open court. And we got opportunities and we’re racing the ball up, or we’re pushing it off with misses. But a quick shot, it’s never changed in the last 200 years, or (will in) the next 200, A quick shot of basketball has got to be a good one. If you take too many quick ones by the wrong guys, where they don’t go in, all of a sudden the game feels funny and guess what that same group, it’s really hard to give your heart and soul as a unit on defense when you’re really not playing as a unit on offense. And, that is definitely the lesson we learned. Now, now it’s up to us to learn from it and carry it into the next game, but if we play the style that we played tonight there’s going to be some games where we (don’t) look great. There’s going to be some games where we have some really poor halves or stretches because we weren’t a smart basketball team tonight.”

So, for five minutes to begin his post-game press conference that was his theme and, well, throughout it.  His team didn’t play smart with the ball, sure not in the first half when It went 3 for 14 from beyond the 3-point line and was 11 for 24 from the floor.

At one point the visiting Jack Rabbits had a 24-14 lead and memories of the previous four games (where UA looked unbeatable) were vanquished. It’s like the Wildcats started to believe the press and couldn’t handle the situation.

“I think so, but, you know, again, the better competition we play against it’s not easy to get those quick ones,” Miller said, of those quick, bad shots. “They’re (opponents) are practicing hard too … no matter who you are, those early quick shots, they’re either going to be bad shots or ill-advised if you (face) a good defensive team. And tonight, we ran into a solid team.”

Miller felt like bad shots became infectious. Maybe like an Oprah Winfrey Show: you get a 3-pointer, you get a 3-pointer, everyone gets a 3-pointer. One guy took a bad shot so someone else did, too. In fact, of the first 17 threes – all in the first half – about six or so were bad shots.

“I think that it’s a lesson for all of us,” Miller said. “It’s a lesson for our staff, and we have to take advantage of the gifts that we have.”

And, they have a gift in the form of 6-foot-11, 240-pound Zeke Nnaji, who hadn’t missed a shot since he was 12 years old. Or so it seemed. He went into the game hitting 17 consecutive shots … and yet he didn’t take a shot in the first half. Foul trouble didn’t help but you get the point. And, Miller made his by bringing that up about three or four times in the press conference.

“Zeke doesn’t take bad shots. He doesn’t. And when we can get him the ball, good things happen. And that doesn’t mean he’s going to shoot it every time or, you know, all these other players we have aren’t allowed to shoot it,” Miller said. “But you can’t let 20 minutes go by where he doesn’t get one good shot. And that started in the last game. And it led to this game, and it clearly is a lesson that we needed to learn, and I’m glad we were able to win. I really am because tonight, we played with fire and a couple threes go in, in the second half, could have been a different outcome for sure,”

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