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Arizona not overlooking North Dakota

Sean Miller discusses Thursday's matchup with North Dakota and more.

As Arizona prepares for Thursday’s matchup with North Dakota, he took some time to reflect on the type of season the Wildcats have had.

“We've gone through a lot of different injuries and things that I think can derail a team during the year,” Miller said. “Some games we could have lost we found a way to win while our team was getting healthy or maybe waiting for Allonzo to return.

“We've had, for the first time, a really good stretch of health and we have all of our players playing. Now we've had a time together, as well. 

“It's not as if we've just come together for the first time for a week. We've been together for maybe a month or so, when you consider all of our players.

“With that, I think we have depth and on a given night it's not just one guy that we're counting on. We really have gotten contributions from everyone. 

“I think that's what's so special about our team to this point is that we really have had a total team effort in building the success of the regular season.”

The Wildcats did not have to travel very far and have familiarity in Salt Lake City.

“You earn your seed,” Miller said. “You earn your location. I'm sure that the play of our entire season in the PAC 12, what happened this past weekend, allowed us to be here in Salt Lake City and have a seed like the No. 2 seed. 

“We love being here in Salt Lake. It's in the footprint of the PAC 12. Our players have been in this city many times. Our fans are able to travel here very easily. 

“Really for our own team, logistically, we're here in an hour flight, which a lot of teams in this tournament don't have that. So now it's up to us to take advantage and perform well.”

One aspect of the tournament that Miller won’t bring up is last year’s loss to Wichita State, despite that game having a valuable lesson.

“Wichita State last year, they made our program better, they really did,” Miller said. “Ironically they're playing my brother at Dayton in this year's tournament. So -- what I mean by that, it's not just that we lost in the first round. 

“Sometimes that happens, as much as nobody ever wants to have that first-round exit, this isn't a seven-game series tournament. This is you have to be at your best in that first 40 minutes or the next 40 may never come.

“Wichita State a year ago, they were bigger, stronger, they were better coached. They were more ready. They were tougher. In the first eight minutes of that game it was over. 

“Just because you're from the PAC-12 or in our case maybe that we had gone deep in this tournament in previous years doesn't mean that it's going to happen again. Each year is different.

“I don't really have to remind them a lot of it. I will tell you that there's a lot of different things that game taught us and hopefully the lessons learned from a year ago will help us tomorrow night.”

Arizona is the heavy favorite Thursday, but North Dakota has plenty of reasons to respect it. 

“North Dakota, they run some really, really difficult to guard offense,” Miller said. “They're fast into what they do. They have a lot of movement, a lot of different ball screens and when you have a lot of movement and it's fast and you have a number of very good players, I think their guards are as good of a tandem as we've faced, especially when you look at their production. 

“They combine for about 35 points per game. Everybody on their team seems to know their role very well and they score 80 points per game.”

In addition, North Dakota poses some unique issues defensively as well.

“They get their hands on a lot of of balls,” Miller said. “They get steals. They deflect. Turn you over. They use their defense to get out in transition. We have to really be smart and take care of the ball when we have it on offense.

“Very well coached, tough team. When you win your regular season, which we did, and then you win your conference tournament, I think it says a lot about kind of your heart. I think they're a team that has a big heart. And it's going to be a tough game.”

Quinton Hooker and Geno Crandall pose one of the best mid-major guard duos in the country and Miller anticipates that the Wildcats will have their hands full.

“Crandall and Hooker do it both on defense and offense,” Miller said. “If you look at their steals, they really disrupt the other team. I think they combine for about five steals a game, but they're pesky, they set the tone for their defense.

“On offense they can both score and make others better and they're always using ball screens. They can shoot the three-point shot, especially Hooker, and in transition both guys thrive. 

“When they're coming at the basket, a lot like Allonzo, Kadeem, Parker on our end, a lot of bad things happen for the other team. Getting back in transition, taking care of the ball, and really understanding how good they are as players.

“A lot of times the difference maybe from one conference to the next isn't at the guard position. It's maybe the overall size or depth of size, from maybe a conference like the Big Ten and some others. 

“The guards, if you add them up, you really can't tell the difference. I look at those two guys as two guards who are really terrific players.”

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