With Arizona coming off a road loss to Oregon State, it is not a surprise that Sean Miller is disappointed. However, it is not necessarily the lack of execution that makes Miller upset as much as it is the lack of effort.
"We did not play with a consistent effort, especially in the second half on defense, that we need to be successful," Miller said. "That is very disappointing. There’s a lot of things I think you understand as a coaching staff.
"Once in a while the basketball is not going to go in. As we move through the early part of our season, you can’t forget someone like Stanley is a freshman, so when he sees a zone defense that is really aggressive on an away court, you can see at the beginning maybe that he has to kind of figure out how to go against that. Those are things you learn from and teach and move on.
"That is our job and our team’s job. When guys aren’t giving great effort on defense, to me that is something that there is a severe penalty for. That is the one trademark that all of us want to have as coaches that your team plays hard day in and day out, game in and game out. We picked and chose against Oregon State and we got what we deserve."
After the loss, Miller mentioned playing some zone and while that remains an option, he does not believe it is the only answer.
"That is not the solution," Miller said. "As a matter of fact, every time that you invest in something else, it takes away from something. We have to have a zone in place and we have to in our man to man, look at what we’re doing and then look at what we can do to protect our team from the second half of Oregon State and UNLV.
"What teams have done recently is they have tried to pick on individual matchups and they have kind of abandoned what they normally do, simplify it. You can’t guard me, so I am just going to keep going at you. That is what Oregon State did to their credit."
As frustrating as that was for Miller and his staff to watch, now comes the time to fix it.
"As the coach, we can’t continue to sit back and just say ‘Oh it is happening again,’ Miller said. "What is the solution? Some of it is getting guys out of the game and sitting on the bench, putting a different group in. Some of it is in our man to man, our scheme.
"Protecting against some of these matchups a little bit more. Mixing in a zone is something that can maybe offset that a little bit. Having said that, if our effort is 100 percent, playing as hard as we possibly can, I think we will be okay."
In order to be as good of a defensive team as Miller would like, players like have to sacrifice and right now Miller sees more of a selfish team when it has breakdowns similar to Sunday night.
“We say it here a lot, that if you’re a totally committed team on the defensive end, it’s really hard to say your team is selfish and if you have a team that picks and chooses how hard we play on defense then I think everybody would have the right to call our team selfish,” Miller said. “Because what happens is you’re more worried about what you’re doing. You’re more worried about how the game’s going for you.
“You’re disappointed that you didn’t get a shot in the last few minutes and your mindset and effort level isn’t on the play at hand, it’s on what just happened. You start to think that the statistics that you’re going get on offense aren’t going to be good enough to be an NBA player and you start to think about the NBA and then you get a phone call after the game or a text message saying you’re not doing enough on offense and the whole thing goes to…”
The defensive effort came as somewhat of a surprise to Miller considering how Arizona performed the previous two games.
"Arizona State and at Oregon, if you grade us on our defense, I think the effort level I watch closely was in place," he said. "I was very proud of how we played on defense and how hard we played in both of those games.
"When we walked out there against Oregon State, if you watched us early on offense, I think we shot three airballs, two in a row. In the first half against Oregon State our offense struggled, but we were winning 21-20.
"Our defense the first half, although not perfect, was about the standard I think we have come to accept here. In the second half, we just got destroyed defensively. One of the things that got lost in the second half was that we really found our groove against their zone. We were as efficient in the second half on offense as any game we played all season long."
As Miller compares the current team to what he has had in the past, this season's is somewhere in the middle.
“Two years ago we had an excellent season,” he said. “One of the parts to that season was we had pockets of the Pac-12 where we unraveled defensively and it didn’t cost us a great season, we had one, but it probably cost us a conference championship or maybe that next level.
"Instead of being right at the cusp of a number of great things we weren’t quite able to break through because our defense never really became excellent. Last year you saw what it felt like to be the best, or among the best.
“Where we’re at this year is we’re kind of in between. In many ways we’ve advanced beyond perhaps where we would have been two years ago, but we’re nowhere near where we were last year. It really stems from complete and total commitment to the effort level on defense.”
One of the key aspects to having each player buy in is by convincing him that overall success will lead to individual as well.
“I think with the great teams in college basketball you realize with team success, a lot of great individual accolades follow,” Miller said. “With a lack of team success very few follow.
"Not everybody believes that, but it’s ongoing. It’s about working at it every single day in today’s climate of college sports, especially in basketball, because guys can leave in a year or a semester, two years. It’s about really working at that team unity and togetherness every day. It’s not easy.
“It’s difficult and I would say this team in particular is a tremendous challenge to make sure that we’re united and about Arizona and about team and about defense every day. It can suck the life out of you.”