It’s not like Sean Miller didn’t warn you … or his team.
Eastern Washington was everything he said it would be. It would be good and not surprisingly good from the 3-point line.
As for Arizona?
Well, it was good enough in beating EWU 70-67 in McKale Center.
“We were very fortunate to win (but) I thought it was a win we earned,” Miller said on a Zoom postgame media gathering. “I don’t think they caved in or gave it to us.”
In a match made on Tinder (Thanks Pac-12’s Ted Robinson for the line) over the last week, it almost ended in a last-minute bad decision.
But, alas, Arizona was good enough for the win.
“We can take a lot of good things from it,” said Terrell Brown, who was key down the stretch, “a lot of (little) steps. But we also have winkles that need to be straightened out.
Miller would agree. But even the critical Miller saw improvement from the first game to the second game.
“For sure,” he said. “Without Ira Lee and with Ira Lee we are a better team. We were able to utilize Ira’s quickness to help us switch and take away the 3-point shot.”
It helped because that was the key component for Arizona down the stretch and throughout the entire second half. Arizona limited EWU to 2 for 15 from beyond the arc in the second half.
Remember that EWU went 8 for 16 from beyond the 3-point line in the first half.
“That’s a tall order and they were also scoring from two,” Miller said.
He said defensive breakdowns were the cause.
Then came the second half, and, again, it was a different story.
“Our defense was much, much better,” he said. “Were we perfect? No, we still had some breakdowns. Thought we wore them down a little bit.”
Guard James Akinjo had a game-high 15 points. It helped that freshman Azoulas Tubelis added 13 points and nine rebounds. He’s one of a few freshman Miller said will have to “learn through fire.”
“Azoulas was much more confident, much more sure of himself in the ball game than he was in our season opener,” Miller said. “That will continue as we move forward. I thought he was a big reason why we won.”
Don’t forget the other factors: Arizona had 33 points off its bench (four coming off of it) and Arizona went smaller and defended on the perimeter. It allowed Arizona to go on a 22-11 run in the final minutes to overcome an eight-point deficit. It included a 19-6 run. Dalen Terry and the others allowed for James Akinjo to play more off the ball allowing him to attack the basket more. Brown had seven points in that final stretch and Terry had five points also in that run.
Brown said it was “fun and something we do in practice sometimes,” he said. “This was the first time actually bringing it out with four guards.”
“I thought that helped us defend the 3-point shot on defense,” Miller said of going smaller. “And it allowed us to drive the ball.”
Miller said most of UA’s baskets were around or near the rim near the end.
“It something our team has to learn,” he said. “We shot some tough off-the-dribble pullup twos in the first half. We’re not going to win shooting those types of shots.”
Miller added that until more games are played, they won’t learn that. After 35 practices, it hasn’t happened. But as is typical of Miller in the early season, “we are a work in progress.”
He said that again on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s all about (getting) experience right now,” Miller said. “The more experience we get, the better overall we will be.”
Next up is Northern Arizona on Monday.