Arizona will close out 2020 on a good note and some confidence heading into the rest of 2021 schedule.
Never mind that it’s all the team has left to play for given the one-year self-imposed postseason ban announced this week.
Despite the news, Arizona is in a good place – mentally, physically, and perhaps emotionally.
Heck, didn’t you catch a glimpse of Sean Miller cracking a smile or two on the sideline during UA’s 80-53 win over Washington in Seattle?
It was there, in the late stages of Arizona’s impressive – yes, Washington isn’t that good, but – win as so many players contributed to UA’s eighth win of the season. In fact, the top nine plyers in the rotation scored, and had some sort of impact. Seven had anywhere from seven to 13 points.
Benedict Mathurin led the way with 13 points. Jordan Brown had 12 points. Azuolas Tubelis and Terrell Brown each added 10 points.
Arizona outrebounded Washington 58-30 and had just 10 turnovers in a game that was over early as UA took a double-digit lead early in the first half – it held a 42-28 halftime lead – and continued the press throughout. Can’t you see Miler smiling after that?
Even Miller said “we’re a little bit more sure of ourselves” during its second road trip of the season.
What’s very clear is Arizona is playing with a “healthy dose of confidence.”
But Miller also knows it can leave in a hurry.
“We talk a lot about confidence,” Miller said, adding players handle it differently. “When you prepare the right way, when you’re somebody who does things the right way on and off the court … competing, listening and learning that in and of itself develops confidence in a player and in a team.”
It comes on the heels of UA’s announcement of its ban from any postseason this year, one that “hurt” said Jordan Brown, “but it’s not going to stop us because we have a lot to play for. If anything, it gives us more of a job to go out and play hard.”
No wonder Miller is smiling. He’s seeing the teamwork and togetherness this team has.
“Our team is obviously disappointed,” Miller said. “The NCAA Tournament, playing for a championship in the post season is why you come to Arizona It’s all we talk about, think about as a player. The words March Madness are very important. When it’s not a possibility, it’s certainly disheartening.”
Miller said the goal now is to play for the “best record we can possibly have” so there will be no doubt that we weren’t a tournament team. I’m not going to act like it’s no big deal because it’s significant.”
Arizona won’t know its overall fate until the Independent Accountability Review Process finishes its findings and makes a decision on the investigation. Until then, they will play on.
Thursday night, it was like it was a new dawn and a new year as UA celebrated its second consecutive impressive win. Earlier this week, it put away Colorado. Now Washington. And yes, both teams were picked to fall below Arizona in the Pac-12 standings, but, hey, it beats the alternative.
Miller said some of the success is that “we have a great group of guys. They respect Arizona. They respect the program’s history. They know they are representing the past but in some ways a bridge to a bright future.”
Now, Miller said, it’s up to them to produce the best nine weeks of basketball it can.
The approach won’t change, Miller said.
“We’re going to enjoy our time together,” he said. “If there’s a team I’ve ever been around that is playing for each other, it’s this group right here.”
Be sure to catch Steve and Jay Gonzales on “Eye on the Ball” weekdays from 3-4 pm on Fox Sports 1450.