Arizona made a statement with its win over Utah on Saturday and Sean Miller credited much of it to the Wildcats’ effort level.
“I think over the last couple of days we tried to dial back and really be about what we are doing to be the best we can be and we’re going to live with the result,” Miller said.
“If that meant Utah came in here and beat us, great, let’s just make sure if we do get beat we get beat playing hard, playing together, and trying our best.
“If we have been guilty of anything this year, I think in a couple of very isolated incidents, we did not play with near the energy rebounding and defending like we did Saturday. I think it was a lesson learned for our team.”
The increased effort also led to a dominating performance on the glass.
“I think the rebounding in this game says a lot,” Miller said. “The fact that we were able to out rebound Utah, and they’re very good in their own right of getting second shots and preventing the other team from getting second shots, but we out rebounded them 40-19. I think that says a lot about how active we were and how hard we played.”
The Utes got off to a 10-2 start, but T.J. McConnell was able to get things going for the Wildcats.
“We really needed him in the first half,” Miller said. “Utah changed up on defense from what they have been doing and they really got off to a great start in large part because of that.
“Once we settled in, T.J. led us. He made big shots and in the first half he was the reason we were winning. It was a team effort, but Stanley Johnson was sensational in the second half. He dominated the game.”
“T.J. did a real good job of playing off of a ball screen, many ball screens. He made the right decisions. Sometimes it was a shot, sometimes it was a pass, but it was his playmaking off of the ball screens that really propelled us in the first half.
“In the first half when we needed it down 10-2 playing against a different type of defense, he settled our team and that is what you want out of a very good point guard.”
Arizona also got one of the best performances of Brandon Ashley’s career.
“Coming off of the Oregon trip we talked and I think Brandon refocused himself on being aggressive rebounding and defending and the last two games have maybe been his best back to back games of the season,” Miller said.
“He was like an all-conference player and when he plays like that our team is a lot better.”
As well as Arizona played against Colorado and Utah, there is still plenty to be learned.
“We’re going to look at both of these games,” Miller said. “We’re going to watch the Colorado game and we’re going to watch the Utah game.
“We’re not going to watch a highlight film as much as the things that we did well in both games and the things we need to improve. In our program, we are expected to win every game. There is nothing wrong with that, that is where the bar is here.
“It can’t be life or death and every time you lose you die and every time you win that is what you are supposed to do. There has to be some joy in the ride.
“Our guys have been the hunted now for almost two years and with that, there can be a burden and all of a sudden some of the things you enjoyed or did well you forgot about because it is all about the win and the result.”
Now attention will turn to Stanford and California, as the preparation begins almost immediately.
“We’re going to the Bay Area,” Miller said. “Stanford is playing excellent basketball and Cal has a new coach that’s energized. I know that we are going to have to be at our best.
“Part of what is going to do that is having a great three or four days leading up to our game on Thursday.”