Arizona went into Saturday afternoon’s game with California 13-4 overall and 6-3 in the Pac-12 Conference.
So, when Pac-12 announcers Roxy Bernstein and Robert Ehsan said Sean Miller told them UA’s game vs. California was the most important game of the season it raised an eyebrow.
Important because it was the next game?
Important because UA could lose two straight heading on the road next week?
Important because UA didn’t play well on Thursday against Stanford?
Yes, yes, oh heck yes.
UA put it on Cal early, in the middle and somewhat late to get the win.
Arizona responded with a 71-50 win over California in McKale Center in a game where Miller said he was proud that they bounced back. It as the ninth consecutive win over Cal and 13th in 14 meetings.
“It was because how we all felt and I felt leaving the Stanford game,” Miller said, referring to why he said it was the most important game of the year. “We had a lead under the eight-minute media timeout of five points. We went out there and got smashed. Broke down and gave in. We had a selfishness about us across the board that’s not going to allow us to be successful.”
Translation: What he saw against Stanford was not Arizona and clearly not the Arizona he’s tried to build through the years.
“We let our guard down and I’m not sure why,” Miller said. “…If we are not at our best, we’re not going to be very good.”
Sure, he said, there might be a game like that even with the best teams, but it’s more about how you handle it and how you bounce back.
Well, Arizona fixed some of the things that ailed it from Thursday. Temper that by knowing California is hardly on the caliber of Stanford … but a win is a win. And, well, Arizona needed a win, one that has moved it to 7-3 in the conference.
UA’s James Akinjo arguably had his best game as a Wildcat, finishing with 20 points, eight assists and no turnovers.
He was one of four UA players who scored in double figures and held California to just 50 points.
Azuoulas Tubelis and Jordan Brown each had 12 points. Bennedict Mathurin added 10 points.
So is this a team Miller needs to challenge every game to get the best out of it? Miller said no, but he said few know how difficult a season is, given the length, situations, injuries, circumstances and all this under COVID-19 circumstances.
Specific to Saturday afternoon, Miller said it was more of a reminder that Arizona had to make it right again, get back to winning ways and “put it behind you.” And another reminder to play against the opponent and “not ourselves.”
“We aren’t overwhelming anybody on our schedule,” he said. “We have to do things collectively, the right way.”
He reminded the team again after Saturday’s blowout, taking an estimated 30 minutes (much longer than usual after a game) to talk to his team about the future.
“It’s about everybody understands winning on the road – we have two flights and it’s not easy – and to review the team we were against Stanford,” Miller said. “And the same group that went out today and some of the things that were better, that’s how we have to be.”
And, well, they were.