Arizona defeated UCLA Friday night to advance to the Pac-12 title game and afterwards, Sean Miller could not have been happier.
“I’m really proud of our team,” Miller said. “You know, it's not easy to come back on back-to-back days here in the Pac-12 Tournament and play against a team like UCLA with their high-powered offense and the season they've had, and for us to come out of here with a win, we're really excited.
“Never been prouder of a group of kids. We lost a tough game at home in our last game, and I think it really stuck with these guys and motivated them to be better. And we had the opportunity and we took advantage of it and thought we played a really hard-fought, physical game and came out on top.”
Lauri Markkanen finished with 29 points and seems to be back on track after struggling for weeks.
“Over the last month, he went through, whether it was a drought or maybe a number of games where he didn't make threes, but keep in mind, in one of those weeks he was actually the National Player of the Week, and he didn't make any threes,” Miller said.
“He's learned and he's grown offensively close to the basket, offensive rebounding. He’s a much better defensive player. I think he would tell you that.
“I think as he focused a lot on the development of that, he probably got away from focusing on the things that he's always done naturally. Now for the first time I believe he has both qualities, where he's physical around the basket, more comfortable, we're more comfortable as a team with him close to the basket, and now his shot returns.
“There aren't many players that are better, and I think Allonzo would attest there aren't many kids that are better teammates. He does what we ask him to do every day. Tonight he was spectacular.”
Much has been made of Sean Miller’s late timeout and while the reasons for it are apparent, Miller also took an opportunity at that time to talk to Kadeem Allen.
“You know, I love Kadeem Allen, and we didn't end his senior night the right way,” Miller said. “Tonight was about making sure that we paid Kadeem back and I just wanted him to know how much we love him, how much we appreciate him, how hard he plays.
“I mean, he had people driving from the state of North Carolina to Arizona for that game, and it didn't work out. He ended up shooting a basketball on the last play. A lot is made of that when you miss that shot, and he was playing with a finger that most people wouldn't even bother to play. I wanted him to know how much we loved him.”
Arizona shot 50 percent from the field and was able to keep up with UCLA’s pace, if not push it at times.
“We love to push the ball,” Miller said. “Look, we've had a lot of guys hurt. You know, we've played over 50% of our season with seven available players, and this guy, Lauri, it's one thing to have seven available players, but sometimes we only had three guards, so he was the fourth guard.
“If any guard got in foul trouble, he played the guard position. So you have to be smart. You have to play to win. We couldn't play as fast during a lot of different stretches. You know, when we're in the half court, we want to take a great shot.
“Clearly we pushed the ball every day, and we're at our best when we can get out in transition. I think Parker is really, really playing well. Keep in mind, he didn't play with us for eight weeks.
“Then I would say it took an additional four weeks for him to really regain his quickness and his pace. But when you look at him out there now, he's the best player that he can be. Really, he ignites our transition game.”
Arizona’s offense is at its best when Allonzo Trier and Lauri Markkanen are able to feed off of each other, which happened consistently Friday night.
“Now that Allonzo's back, I think Allonzo's playing his best basketball,” Miller said. “We just talked about Lauri, so, hopefully all of us want to play our best at this time. I think we'll know more tomorrow if we're peaking, because the team we're getting ready to play tomorrow is really, really good. I think they can win the National Championship.
“When we have these two guys together in offensive action, a lot of great things are happening for our team because they both can really score. They both can drive the ball, and they both can see. Allonzo had 31 assists a year ago. He knows that number, I've told him about it a thousand times.
“If you look at it, he's over 31. Yesterday he was three assists to one turnover. He had four turnovers tonight, but he had four, so he had seven assists in the last two games, which is awesome because that's something a year ago he didn't necessarily have.
“He's added that to his game, and that really brings out the best in our team when he can beat you with the pass as well.”
After Arizona’s win over Colorado, Miller said he would have a better idea of where his team is at once the UCLA game was completed.
“You lose, it's over,” Miller said. “Nobody talks about you. It's deafening. When you have a great season like we've had and you've gone through as much as we've gone through, you don't want it to end.
“I mean, I think the thing that you can control is your togetherness as a team and how hard you're playing with great effort.
“You know, if you're really together and you play with great effort and you lose, so what. We'll move on. We'll move to next week, and if that happens next week, then, look, we'll box it up and say, man, we've had some magical moments over the last six months.
“We have a special group of guys. We really do. We have a lot of energy. We have a will to win, and sometimes that's a lot more important than making shots or running a play or things like that.”