It’s about realizing they have each other’s back and that they must stop being complacent. That’s the message from Zeke Nnaji after Saturday night’s 69-60 win over Stanford.
And that, yes, Arizona can still be a physical team when it comes down to it. Saturday, it was that and more.
Defense. Rebounding. Surviving. And, well, a 20-game winning streak against Stanford.
Arizona shot just 37 percent and still won. What’s that saying? Just win, baby.
“It was a testament to our growth as a team after a couple tough losses and a number of games this year, one of the things that I’ve really talked a lot about is no matter how hard we try to play our style, there is another team playing and once in a while, the other team can dictate the style,” Sean Miller said on his postgame radio show. “And then sometimes even within the framework of things you do well, you have a night where you don’t shoot it well, or a night where you turn it over, a night like tonight when we got in foul trouble. But the definition of a great season is, ‘are you still able to win when some of those things occur?’ There are times when those types of things have dismantled us and not allowed us to be the winner at the end. But (Saturday) we really stayed with it, and not just one player but really everybody.”
The player that kept Arizona in the game and ahead was once again Nnaji, who had 21 points and 11 rebounds.
“He played against a hard trap on every low-post catch,” Miller said. “And once we got through really in the first half, I thought everybody kind of settled in.”
Once again, shooting from the perimeter was a problem. Arizona hit just 3 of 21 shots from beyond the 3-point line.
“We missed eight or 10 that I would say there’s nobody within eight feet of the shot,” Miller said. “But to be able to win, we have a shooting night like that, I think the other concern is just making sure that we keep working on our shooting and take good ones because we’re a much better shooting team than we’ve shown. We have these stretches where the ball doesn’t go in. (Saturday) was an example of being able to overcome that and still win.”
That’s when the defense must step in. Saturday it did, although Stanford too was cold when left open.
“Our defense is improving,” Miller said. “I think we felt that way as far back as three weeks ago. But one thing about defense on Thursday night, when we play Oregon State, we gotta start all over again and gotta do it again. And there have been a number of times our defense really looks the part, and then you get into a next week or next game, and we pick and choose.
“But on this trip, our defense was very good against Cal, and it was excellent tonight. Our defensive rebounding percentage tonight was 89 percent. That means that Stanford got 11 percent of their misses back. And we made them miss quite a bit, so when you outrebound the team 39 to 25, and they have three second shots when they shoot the percentage they shot, it’s hard to lose and I thought that was the reason we won.”