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Arizona coach Miller: ASU game shows bench needs a bigger role

The Pac-12 admitting that the referees in Friday’s Arizona/Arizona State game erred by not calling a technical foul on Jahii Carson at the end of the game was of no solace to Arizona coach Sean Miller.

It also didn’t matter to him.

“In my mind, when I went and shook Herb’s hand, the game was over,” Miller said at his weekly press conference. “I don’t want to win or lose on something that doesn’t have any relevance to the actual play.”

What Miller was most concerned about was his team’s performance in the double overtime loss. The Wildcats shot 36 percent from the field — including 4 of 16 from three — and made just 16 of its 30 free throw attempts. Arizona also turned the ball over 15 times, including six from point guard T.J. McConnell.

It all added up to the second defeat of the season for the Wildcats (23-2, 10-2), who fell to fourth in the national rankings.

The coach noted that he has a great offensive rebounding team that generally takes care of the ball, which usually allows it to make up for some of its other shortcomings, mainly shooting. That, combined with one of the country’s stingiest defenses, has gotten the Wildcats to this point.

“Moving forward, I think it’s a matter of us making sure that we stay consistent on what allows us to win,” he said. “Nobody understands more than I that the ball going in the basket a little bit more, whether that’s execution or whether that’s sometimes just a player making the shots that he is taking will give us a lot more room for error down the stretch.”

For Arizona, the stretch run includes road games at Utah, Colorado, Oregon State and Oregon with home games against California and Stanford sandwiched in between. After that will be the Pac-12 Tournament, and from there it will be on to the NCAA Tournament.

Miller said to get through it all, it will be imperative to rely more on his bench. Friday against Arizona State, four players got off the Wildcats’ bench, but they combined for just 23 minutes of action in a 50-minute game. One player, Gabe York, accounted for 14 of those minutes.

“I would say the one thing that I learned in the ASU game is we have to play our bench more,” Miller said. “You don’t have a crystal ball that you’re going to go to double overtime — that’s not the reason that I felt that, and it’s difficult to start playing players in overtime periods when they’ve been sitting there for almost 45 minutes to an hour of real time, it’s not fair to ask them to come into that situation — but I think early on in games, throughout the first half and throughout the entire game, playing our bench is key.”

Miller said when the reserves don’t play much early in teh game, by the time they do get in there is a fear of making mistakes, which then leads to their play suffering. Add in the extra minutes the starters are then forced to play, and the team may tire and be unable to finish the game strong.

“For us to win the most games this year, I think our biggest upside lies in trusting Jordin Mayes, Elliott Pitts, Gabe York a little bit more,” Miller said. “Throwing Matt Korcheck in there and taking some minutes away from the players that are playing because I also think it will help them so that they don’t have to take the burden of every possession.”

The stress can add up a bit, Miller said, especially with as many close games as the Wildcats have been in, especially on the road. It was exactly the case in Friday’s loss, where Miller admitted he wishes he would have turned to his reserves more.

“There’s a lot that can kind of wear on you as a player,” he said. “I think just getting some of our key players more rest. Unfortunately, that’s what I learned at ASU.

“And if we would have won that game, I think that we as a staff would have still left there feeling the same way as I feel right now.”