The kids are going to be alright … and because of it, so will their coach.
Or so it seems when it comes to the University of Arizona basketball team. Sunday night the Wildcats looked – and played – with a style that suits them: fast, harkening the day of the Lute Olson era when outscoring opponents with a use of an offensive blitz that couldn’t be stopped.
“Our team was ready,” said Sean Miller after his Cats defeated visiting Illinois 90-69 in McKale Center for the team’s second win. “We have a good group. We played together. We played with great effort. We have a lot of talent on offense, not just guys who can score around the rim but playmakers, 3-point shooters, guys who come in off the bench.
“You feel that. When we get out on transition and move the ball a lot of good things happen.”
Arizona’s pace was suffocating for Illinois, particularly after its 15-0 run in the second half that put the game away. (Remember those days?)
That was thanks, in part, to UA’s trio of spectacular freshmen, who combined for 62 of Arizona’s points. Nico Mannion had a game-high 23 points; Josh Green had 20 points and Zeke Nnaji had 19.
Shades of Mike Bibby, Miles Simon and Bennett Davison as they got out on the break and finished. Save for the size and maturity that is, but you get my point.
“Me and Nico have a connection but at the same time I’ve never been around a group of kids where we’ve had an amazing chemistry,” said Green. “Our whole team connects, not just Nico and me. We have a whole bond and will continue to grow.”
But there is a lot to like for all involved but especially Green and Mannion – given they lived up to their resumes on Sunday night in front of a not-full-McKale-but-a-loud-one-nonetheless.
Miller said the three “were spectacular” in their second game. Miller pointed out that “Zeke was quiet” with his 19 points, going 9 for 12 from the floor. “That means something,” Miller added.
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He mentioned Mannion’s nine assists and Green’s overall performance.
“He played with a lot of confidence,” Miller said of Green. “His 3-point shooting has really improved. He’s really worked at it.”
And yes, he said, he was expecting that kind of production from the fresh faces early into the season.
“All come from winning backgrounds,” he said.
“They’ve been on teams and have been held to a standard. They are good every day in practice. They really work at it. You’re able to coach them.”
For the last couple – maybe a few – coaches have wanted to work on the pace of their play. Mannion said it was a point of emphasis recently.
“We want to push the ball,” Miller said. “That’s one way we can use our depth.”
Miller did want to emphasize that playing fast doesn’t mean “you’re playing smart” so good shots and good defense – his staples as a coach – are still required.
“When you win on the road you have to get stops and have to rebound,” Miller said. “You have to play smart basketball. If you can do that at a faster pace, especially when you have a deep team – awesome. That’s the one thing we are learning… As you can see, I think we have a pretty good starting point. We are better when we are pushing it.”
One would think Arizona has the talent to do that, given Mannion’s court-guiding skills, Greens athletic ability and versatility, Nnaji’s athletic ability and everyone else’s ability to compliment the trio.
Miller admitted this may be the most fluid – fast-paced team – he’s ever had while at Arizona.
“It’s not just one player,” he said, adding he has several different players who are threats. “We really have that in transition.”
So, expect this often? One game is not a good sample size, but the fans really enjoyed it given some of the social media reaction and the fans who showed up in McKale Center.
“Are you trying to get me to play faster,” Miller joked. “I think this group is capable.”
Buckle up. It should be fun.