Arizona went into Saturday afternoon’s game with just seven scholarship players available, and, facing an athletic Gonzaga team that plays well on both ends of the floor, Sean Miller knew it would have a difficult task from start to end.
“I’d like to congratulate and really give Gonzaga a lot of credit,” Miller said following Arizona’s 69-62 loss on Saturday afternoon. “One of the reasons we’ve agreed to play in this event is because we had a good opportunity to face such a great opponent and a program that we really respect in Gonzaga.
“Obviously we’ve played them four out of the last five years and every time we get ready to play them and the game happens, you always leave the game no matter what the result just understanding how well coached they are.”
Arizona presented no defensive answers for dominant big man Przemek Karnowski. The sophomore finished with 18 points on the night and dictated what Gonzaga did offensively for the majority of the game.
Nevertheless, Miller understands that players like Karnowksi exemplify the physicality and challenge of beating Gonzaga.
“Year in and year out as faces have changed, they maintain a very talented group of players,” he said. “Unfortunately for us, Karnowski’s face did not change. He came back this year and he’s one the reasons that this team is still very good. We knew coming in that we were going to have our hands full.
“I really thought the start of the game was a reflection of a group of guys that were very confident coming off a championship in their recent tournament down in Florida. They’re a group of guys that felt really good about who they are and it showed.”
There’s no question that the absence of Parker Jackson-Cartwright weakened Arizona’s offense to a great extent and Miller felt that was indicative early on.
“On our end, I think we were unsure of ourselves coming out of the gates and getting down 12,” Miller said. “We were struggling on offense but if you look at the rest of the first half, I thought we certainly played a lot better than the first four minutes. With the players we have, I was pleased with our guys' resilience and effort in the second half. I thought we fought hard.”
With such a thin roster at stake, Miller understands the importance of Lauri Markkanen and Rawle Alkins moving forward and feels this loss should be looked at as a learning experience more than anything.
“Without Lauri and Rawle, I don’t know where we would be as a team,” he said. “Both are freshman and are only eight games into their college careers and they’re two of our top three leading scorers.
"They’re very coachable and guys that work hard and I know that both of them are only going to get better. This experience today will only make them better moving forward.”