Sean Miller knows what some folks may have been thinking last week, and what they’re thinking this week.
Lose to somebody like, say, Oregon State and it’s…
” ‘Boy, you guys really laid an egg on the road’ or, ‘You’re terrible and your coach stinks. You stink,’ ” Miller said.
But beat a top 10 team like, say, Utah, and it’s.
” ‘You’re great. You’re the best player ever. You’re going to the NBA. Your coach is awesome,’ ” Miller said.
The truth, he said, is somewhere in the middle.
Arizona lost to the Beavers on Jan. 11, dropping to No. 10 in the AP Top 25 poll. Then it beat the Utes on Jan. 17 at McKale Center, pulling into a three-way tie atop the Pac-12 with Utah and Stanford and moving to No. 7.
Big picture: The Wildcats are OK. They’re 16-2 and still have plenty of time to earn a Pac-12 title and a top NCAA tournament seed.
So if fans try to force the Cats to hop on that same roller-coaster ride this week, with another big game Thursday at Stanford, the players aren’t budging.
At least Miller hopes they aren’t.
“You really can’t pay attention to it,” Miller said this week. “The emotion is not what life’s about. Nothing’s ever that great. Nothing’s ever that bad. Those that jump quickly to criticize or praise — they don’t understand how hard this is, in the world of college basketball. We don’t play every Saturday and [just] have an 11- or 12-game season. We play between 30 and 40 games, and there’s a lot going on.”
UA point guard T.J. McConnell agreed.
“We don’t pay attention to what people say,” McConnell said. “We obviously dropped one at Oregon State we probably shouldn’t have. But credit to [the Beavers]. They played good defense and made some plays down the stretch. That happens sometimes.
“I thought we responded well by beating great Colorado and Utah teams. People are going to be talking bad about you when you’re at your worst, and they’ll be talking great about you when you’re at your best. You’ve just gotta stay even-keeled.”
Of course, Arizona probably wouldn’t have lost at Oregon State if it had the same effort it had against Utah.
Even without seeing the games, the stat sheet made the difference in the Wildcats’ intensity obvious. UA was outrebounded 32-26 against OSU and its largely unproven inside players — but it hammered the Utes and their well-regarded big men on the boards 40-19.
“I think all of us are very proud of our effort level against Utah,” Miller said. “That’s not only a starting point, but maybe the most important thing that any team can have — great effort, great hustle. We had that in the Utah game, and that’s one of the reasons we were able to come out on top.”
Even though Miller said the Wildcats have already produced some highlights this season — in Maui, and in big home games with Gonzaga, Michigan and Utah — he is striving for consistent effort and improvement.
A train full-speed ahead, not a roller coaster.
“Practice matters. Coaching these players matters,” Miller said. “Improvement matters: How much better can our team be? We’re really trying to be the best team we can be.
“And I believe that the teams who continue to improve these months — whether you win or lose a game — those are the ones who end up having that outstanding season that we’re after here.”
This article was written by Bruce Pascoe from The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.