Miller’s alarmist approach is curious in light of Cats’ accomplishments

Mar 12, 2016, 12:14 AM | Updated: Mar 13, 2016, 9:42 am
Arizona head coach Sean Miller directs his players during the first half of an NCAA college basketb...

Arizona head coach Sean Miller directs his players during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Utah in Salt Lake City, Saturday, Feb. 27, 2016. Utah defeated Arizona 70-64. (AP Photo/George Frey)

(AP Photo/George Frey)

LAS VEGAS — Arizona coach Sean Miller was so late to his postgame press conference on Friday that you got the feeling he didn’t want to leave his office and deliver his hard message.

Once he stopped praising Oregon, you understood why.

As Miller sounded alarm bell after alarm bell on the Wildcats’ 95-89 overtime loss in the Pac-12 Tournament semifinals, you came away with the distinct impression that he was preparing his fans for an NCAA Tournament letdown.

“The last couple of minutes of the first half has really been what I’ve been fighting as their coach from day one with this group,” Miller said of a 15-2 Oregon run that gave the Ducks a 44-29 halftime lead. “I talked a lot after the Colorado game. I’m not negative Nelly. I understand that if you advance in the Pac-12 Tournament, that’s a good thing. But if you think about the (poor) second half of the Colorado game versus the first half, it’s hard to imagine we were the same team. When you do that, it’s also hard to imagine that that is just going to go away.”

Miller could have focused on his team’s ability to rally and force overtime on a clutch 3-pointer from Gabe York and steal by Mark Tollefsen, and at times, he did acknowledge it, but just as he did on Thursday when Arizona let Colorado creep back into the game after an inspired first half, Miller tried one more time to convince his uber talented team of the urgency that lies ahead.

“The point that I made to our group is if we’re not the hard-playing, together team like Oregon is from this point on, we won’t advance,” he said. “Tonight, Oregon was the better team. They were also the more-together, harder-playing team, and that last 2:30 of the first half was something that I think reflects some of my concerns and certainly won them the game to their credit.”

It’s an odd stance to take with a team that showed so much fight; a team that has defensive and athletic deficiencies and yet has proven so hard to kill this season. Arizona’s eight losses this season have been by a combined total of 33 points. The Wildcats have not had difficulty hanging with anyone, and that ability alone should give Miller hope, just as Friday’s rally should have.

“You have to give the team credit for really fighting in the second half and digging our way out of that hole,” center Kaleb Tarczewski said. “I think once this team learn to put it on the court for 40 minutes we’re going to be fine.”

With the NCAA Tournament around the corner, that time clearly should have already arrived, but maybe the players’ belief in that mantra is steeped more in their coach’s message than it is in reality.

Miller has already accomplished a lot in Tucson so he probably deserves some latitude here, but time will tell if his hard-driving, hard-on-his-players approach will provide the necessary fuel to carry them on another deep tournament run, or if his constant fears will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“I don’t say right now, ‘Man, what’s wrong with us?'” he said. “Nobody has to tell me what we do at Arizona, how high the bar is, and we have set that bar high ourselves.

“But we have to replace half of our roster every year, and every once in a while you won’t quite be as good as you were a year ago no matter how hard you try.”

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Miller’s alarmist approach is curious in light of Cats’ accomplishments