Arizona Basketball

Sean Miller: UA needs to work on three key things (maybe more)

The pain in Sean Miller’s message is palpable. It’s a subtle frustration that’s very apparent with his team that enters the Pac-12 Conference season with a 10-3 record.

He used words such as “stupid” and “head-scratching.”

No question this highly thought of team has hit a crossroads before it has hit anywhere near its stride. But there’s still plenty of time.

In fact, there is more to be concerned with than to be liked – he said – during his 25-minute meeting with the media just two days before UA faces Arizona State at McKale Center.

UA coach Sean Miller talking about his team and his concerns headed into Saturday’s Pac-12 opener vs. Arizona State. (Steve Rivera photo)

One, he’s concerned with the team’s defensive rebounding (isn’t he always?).

Two, his team fouls way too much and not at great times.

“We foul at almost an absurd rate,” he said. “It’s stupid. We’re not a smart team when it comes to fouling.”

And third is, well, the team taking “stupid shots.”

“You can’t … this isn’t a circus act, this isn’t an audition (for the NBA),” he said. “This is, is the shot good for Arizona? That shot that goes up, is that a winning play, is that a winning shot?”

Apparently, many aren’t. What he’d like to see is a continued – or a definite effort – into getting the ball near the basket, given UA has a nice finisher in freshman Zeke Nnaji.

“He needs more (touches); he needs more shots. I’m not out there playing,” Miller said. “He is. He makes the shots that he shoots, but our ill-advised, quick off the dribble, sometimes 20-foot twos, sometimes off the dribble threes (prevent that). My-turn shots, it’s a selfish way of playing (and) it hurts our defense; it hurts our fouling. (And), it hurts our ability to win.”

Miller spent about six minutes talking about his team’s three top priorities, so you know they are of major concern. And what would a Sean Miller press conference be without a theme: Thursday it was – all this needs to be corrected ASAP.

He also knows there is no magic wand to fixt it all. At least not right away. Talking about it may help. Working on it does, and they have.

“That’s the job of a coaching staff,” he said of getting things fixed. “That’s my job, to make sure that those areas right there are areas that we can clearly improve. And, I would say that sometimes our improvement may be incrementally, but I will say that if we can improve in all three of those areas, I think will be very successful as we move forward in the next couple of months. I would say that if those three areas don’t change, we’re going to win a few, we’re going to lose a few.”

Which, of course, means at Pac-12 title isn’t likely if it’s an inconsistent season. But he wouldn’t even go there when asked if the team was capable of winning the conference.

“I can’t answer that right now, I really can’t,’’ he said. “We’re not there yet we’re such a long, long way away. All we have is a 10-3 record, and a team that’s getting ready to play Arizona State.

Again, for us to be successful, we have to do the three things (he spoke about) to beat not just ASU but the teams that are on our schedule because I really believe that the Pac 12 is a strong conference.”

Those three issues all came before what may have been concerning him the most: the team’s lack of buying in. Or so it seemed.

He transitioned awkwardly on a simple question about Ira Lee and Dylan Smith being benched and how they took it (apparently well) to how the team is doing.

He had an issue of the team buying into it being about the team and only the team. And not that it reminded me – entirely – of his concerns two years ago when he said he wasn’t sure if he was getting through to his team when he had the likes of Allonzo Trier, DeAndre Ayton and Rawle Alkins, et al, it did, however, have some shades of it. Now is the time to get everyone on the same page.

This year, it’s almost about the team caring about winning and playing like it does. He did admit to the team having a great attitude upon its return from the holiday break. But he did talk about its collective attitude to this point. He talked about it at various points on Thursday.

“You got to play for, you know, the Saturday night in McKale Center (and the) 14,000 people,” he said as part of a four-minute response. “I mean it’s the best of the best of the best, and it’s like it has to almost give you goosebumps, you just love it here and you and you’re playing for the win and you’re playing (with) your heart and soul so that at the end of the game, you know  (you can say) ‘I won.’ There’s no other agenda. And that’s really hard … that’s hard to cultivate and you know every coach, I’m sure, wants to get it right. We have to get that part of things right where you got a team full of great competitors.

“You know, some of the players that have played at this program for 40 years, 35 years and they were unreal competitors. What was on their mind was the win. And when you have that team success and you think in those terms, it’s just amazing how individually, you move towards great, great things. And sometimes you reach your individual goals without even realizing it. Just because you’re so locked in on the moment and playing for your school and playing for our program and this team.”

And to him, especially right now as the Pac-12 season begins, it’s “as important for us as anything– to get everybody locked in on. (That the players know) here’s my role on this year’s team and this is what we want and what I need to do. I gotta work hard to be the best (and) I can add it.”

Time will tell.

Notable

The return of senior Stone Gettings could help on several levels for UA. He’s expected back after what was a five-week absence after suffering a facial fracture vs. Penn. The question is whether he’ll return to the court on Saturday wearing a protective mask or not. What’s clear is he will “be a shot in the arm” according to Miller.

“Sometimes you don’t value a player until he’s no longer with you,” Miller said. “We’ve really missed him.”

Miller said Gettings is one of the team’s hardest workers and he adds depth to the front court. He averaged 13.5 minutes off the bench for UA.

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