A step up in class meant some more teaching moments for Arizona and Sean Miller.
Every game won’t be a 20-assist, 25-point blowout win.
Saturday afternoon, it was hardly that as UA beat visiting Texas El Paso, 69-61, in McKale Center.
And anyway, what do you learn from blowouts? That you’re much better than an inferior team.
“Close games are where character is built,” said James Akinjo, who had 18 points to lead UA. “Tonight, we didn’t make shots, but I thought we responded real well.”
Saturday, Arizona learned plenty while surviving a Miner team older and experienced than most.
“We have to keep learning, keep growing,” Miller said. “The Pac-12 looms in here in the future.”
Miller talked about stress points after playing four games in eight days and what it all meant as his team moved to 5-0 this season. He said, “it started to wear on us tonight.”
UTEP had something to do with it. It wasn’t Cal-State Bakersfield or the like.
“I’m thrilled that we were able to win the game,” Miller said. “It’s always great to be able to teach and learn and make adjustments and to do that with a win.”
More on that later. Arizona still has a lot to improve on given Saturday’s game. It was able to hit 25 of 28 from the free throw line, where James Akinjo hit all 14 of his free throws. While he was perfect from the line, he was 2 for 11 from the floor.
The bad? Arizona went 0 for 9 from beyond the 3-point line just a game after UA hit 12 against Cal State Bakersfield.
Miller talked about failing to exploit UTEP’s defense behind his big men, despite Arizona outrebounding UTEP 46-25. Eighteen of those rebounds were of the offensive variety, and although the differential was pleasing the execution wasn’t. UA had just 11 points from the 18 rebounds.
“When you get 18 offensive rebounds, you should at worst have 18 points,” Miller said. “You want a point for every second shot. Matter of fact, I can make the case you should get more points on 18 second shots.”
Miller said that was the game’s storyline in part if they hit those shots closer to the basket, it would have opened up 3-point shots more and well, one leads to the other.
“They would have had to adjust,” Miller said of UTEP. “Getting our big guys better, more comfortable that’s something I think this game taught us.”
They didn’t hit those shots, ending the game hitting just 39 percent of its shots. And not a single 3-pointer in the mix. It was the first time a Sean Miller-led UA team has failed to hit at least one 3-pointer.
But it did have those free throws, a school record-tying 14 from Akinjo who finished with 18 points.
“That’s all we had,” Akinjo said of the free throws. “Our shot wasn’t falling so we had to rebound and get in the paint, get to the line and generate some offense.”