Arizona coach Sean Miller makes example of G Max Hazzard’s mistakes
Watching a 22-point lead disappear, his Arizona Wildcats giving up a game-winning layup that preceded a ragged-looking final possession didn’t irk coach Sean Miller the most.
His team’s 66-65 loss to the Arizona State Sun Devils on Saturday was more about how that 22-point first-half lead became just 13 by halftime.
It became most apparent on Tuesday that Miller used that second half to send a message. He benched reserve guard and senior Max Hazzard for a bout of mistakes late in the first half.
A wild shot attempt out of a timeout, with eight seconds on the game clock and zero on the shot clock, angered Miller the most. It gave the Sun Devils an easy bucket heading into the locker room.
“He’s won 30 games, he’s won a conference championship, he’s played three or four years, he’s a great student, he’s a really, really great kid, terrific person,” Miller said of Hazzard. “He also shot a shot that could’ve been the worst shot that I’ve seen taken in a Pac-12 game and it wasn’t as though he’s hot, 4-for-4.
“Max has done a really good job for our team this year,” Miller explained to reporters in Tucson. “His performance against both Colorado and Utah, it was a big reason we won the games. Moving forward, our hope is that he continues to be that type of player. The situation of the Arizona State game is he had a number of tough plays, not one. Four or five.”
Along with the rushed attempt that led to an easy ASU basket before halftime, Hazzard gave up a line drive layup as the Sun Devils began cutting into the big Wildcat lead. He turned the ball over, leading to a dunk with a minute to play.
Despite the senior transfer having scored 33 points combined off the bench in wins over Colorado and Utah the week prior to Saturday’s rivalry game, Miller benched him.
“At some point, you have to do what you’re supposed to,” Miller said. “I don’t think it was in our best interest to play him in the second half.”
Arizona, which is shooting 38% from three-point range this year (26th-best in the NCAA), went 0-for-8 from deep in the second half, and ASU completed its comeback.
Miller admitted that he must coach his players better. He said postgame they just weren’t confident enough. Getting them easier looks is part of that, he said.
Hazzard will have a chance to shake it off, the head coach said. So long as he does what he’s asked.
As for what the Wildcats could’ve done better down the second half stretch, well, Miller isn’t so sure about that.
“Arizona State did a great job defending (the last play). We didn’t do as good of a job defending their last drive,” he said. “It’s, I think, something that’s been going around for a long time — I know it’s really the job of the public to worry about the last shot.
“But again, I can make the argument that the last play of the first half was more damaging towards our ability to win than the fact that we didn’t get a great look on the last play of the game.”