Arizona must play better to advance

Sean Miller discusses Arizona's matchup with Saint Mary's.

Arizona has not played Saint Mary’s in the regular season, but with past scrimmages and a friendship among head coaches, the Gaels are no strangers.

“We have a familiarity with them,” Miller said. “I say that because not until you go against Saint Mary's do you truly understand how well they move the ball, how well they execute, and how together they are on both offense and defense. 

“I really believe that we are up against a great team, a team that's more than capable of winning several games in this tournament.”

Arizona scored 100 points against North Dakota, but also came away from the game with some concern about letting up 82.

“We had one of our best offensive nights of the season,” Miller said. “Obviously if you score a hundred points in the NCAA tournament something went right. I thought they really challenged us. They tried to take things away from our offense. 

“They mixed in the zone. As you know, if you follow them, they have the ability to steal the ball and get their hands all over the court on your basketball. We played with single-digit turnovers, which again is a great sign for us. 24 for 28 from the foul line, another great sign.

“But that's an excuse. Truth of the matter is that they were a difficult team for us to guard. They have a couple of guards that I think are as good as a lot of great back courts that we played against this season and they move the ball and they were tough for us to defend.

"We could have been better at times but the one thing that I'm excited about is last night challenged us in such a big way defensively that it leads into our next game. It wasn't like it was easy for us to guard them or what they had on offense doesn't represent the future. 

“If anything, I think it really represents what we're going to go up against tomorrow because as you guys know, Saint Mary's has terrific guard play. They move the ball. They set as many ball screens as any team that we'll face. Last night North Dakota was similar in that aspect.”

Arizona is known to get out in transition more than Saint Mary’s, but the Gaels still pose major defensive challenges.

“They will push it,” Miller said. “They'll shoot the three-point shot in kind of a quiet way. They score more points in transition maybe than people talk about.

“We're going to be at our best when we can get defensive stops and have a chance to get out in transition, and we want to do that, but at the end of the day, they execute and they take care of the ball. 

“It's going to be a great defensive challenge for us. There's going to be long possessions and we're going to have to be really good at the end of the shot clock, in the last ten seconds. 

“You could play very good defense for 15 or 20 seconds, but all of a sudden one of your five defenders breaks down and Saint Mary's has a way of taking advantage of that.”

Defensively, Arizona’s is going to have difficulty containing center Jock Landale.

“Landale inside is terrific,” Miller said. “He is as good around the basket as any low post player that we've faced, but it still comes down to their execution. 

“A lot of his scoring opportunities happen because of how well they execute and a lot of the ball screens that they use. 

“They do a great job of putting him in position of catching the ball and score. To me it's about us being as good as we've been all season long, defending the other team.”

In order for that to happen, Dusan Ristic is going to have to play better than he did on Thursday.

“Dusan is going to be important,” Miller said. “Where we are at in the season now everybody is. Dusan didn't play, in my opinion, up to his ability level the first half of last night's game. We felt that as a team. 

“He was great in the second half. He scored 12 points in the second half. Utilized his size. On offense there aren't many players more skilled than Dusan. He's proven that from start to finish this season. 

“Defensively and rebounding, we're always challenging him, and he's made great improvement. Our entire front line will be challenged because I think they have just a great, great player."

Despite Arizona being the favorite, there is plenty of discussion about the Wildcats being possibly upset. 

Miller does not want that to act as a distraction or take away from Arizona’s performance.

“The fear of losing, we can't operate like that,” he said. “We have to be the best that we can be, knowing that the bigger the game it's going to bring out the best in our team and in our players.

“You could throw the seeds out at this point. You could make the case that Saint Mary's is more efficient than we are, if you look at their numbers this season. 

“They've been remarkably consistent on both offense and defense and they're going to be a tough team for any team in this tournament to beat, including us.”

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