It felt like the good ol’ days in McKale Center on Saturday afternoon.
And not that Sean Miller likes to revisit those days before him, but he did talk about the faithful crowd, the “fun … and pageantry” of the weekend and the pace of the game being made-to-order in Arizona’s 75-54 win over No. 20 Colorado.
It was a perfect mix of going inside then outside or was that outside and then inside? Whatever the case you get the picture.
Replace Mike Bibby with Nico Mannion. Maybe Richard Jefferson with Josh Green. Salim Stoudamire with Max Hazzard and Jordan Hill with Zeke Nnaji and it all makes sense. Go with me here.
Arizona basketball was back for a weekend – all it needed was some throwback uniforms – and last weekend’s sweep in Oregon is but a memory.
“We were ready to play today and ready to play against Utah,” Miller said.
Arizona played its best basketball of the season the last 40 hours. Is it even up for debate? What it all means in a couple of months when the madness of March begins is anyone’s guess but in mid-January you take it.
“We were a together group and played with tremendous energy and effort,” Miller said. “To see our guys rebound the way they did – 39-25 – as you know I’ve been harping on that (because) that’s been an Achille’s heel of ours. It’s great to see us get that right. I believe we are becoming a better rebounding group.”
And for at least two games, a better team.
Fast at times and with patience in others. It’s what Miller has been preaching.
“Quick shots have to be good shots,” he said. “You know I don’t think I’m not trying to hold our guys back at all. Trust me. We’re playing at a good pace, but you know you want to take quality shots because on the road, if you take the quick ones and miss, boy it can really go the wrong direction. And, it puts a lot of pressure on your defense. So, as long as we can play at a good pace, take care of the ball and get quality good early shots, we want to do that.”
And UA did.
It came from all its parts, including the bit players who have gone bonkers the last two games.
Hazzard continues to hit shots from well beyond the half-moon line. He hit three to finish with nine points. A couple from what-are-you-thinking distance only to see it go in and then you say – good shot.
Ira Lee – Mr. Energy – had a game of a lifetime with six points, seven rebounds and an assist. Miller called it a “big day.”
“Ira Lee was outstanding,” Miller said. “His energy and physicalness. He set the tone for a lot of good things.”
The crowd was so pleased late in the game the chants of Ira Lee, Ira Lee, Ira Lee were loud.
“Love it, man,” he said. “It’s beautiful to hear that … with a win, too.”
Dylan Smith, in back-to-back games, was consistently good, getting 13 points and three assists. That’s two straight games Smith has made a difference, but in Arizona’s wins he’s seemingly a big part of them.
Dylan Smith: 13 assists in the first 16 games.
Dylan Smith: 9 assists in the past two games.
“He does, I think it’s a really big observation,” Miller said. “When he doesn’t play well or really has that off night, I think it affects our team. When he’s solid, from a chemistry perspective and just kind of how the game feels, I think we all feel better.
“But you know he’s one of those guys (where) he’ll keep trying. He fights.”
Everyone did on Saturday. Yet, there was no big knockout punch, instead a bunch of body blows from an array of players. The aforementioned bit players and the three star freshmen.
Nnaji played like a man possessed in getting rebounds. He had 12 to go with his 12 points.
Green had 13 points and Mannion had 12 points and seven rebounds. Seven rebounds?
“You can’t do it by yourself,” Mannion said of his rebounds. “It’s a team thing and it’s been a big focus for us in practice… kind of had it in my head a little bit more and I got a couple of bounces, I’d say.”
He was being modest.
But it all worked, including the defense that, well, has taken a bit of a hit given the sweep last week.
Mannion said the team was “super focused and super locked in” on defense.
“We had the fight in us,” he said. “We had a cohesive spirited effort and if we weren’t perfect that’s fine. We weren’t going to go away. We were going to sustain that effort level, through the 80 minutes that we played (in the last two games) and that’s the thing that I’m most proud of it’s that we did really play the game with great effort.”