Arizona suffered no letdown or setback in its game against Oral Roberts after Saturday’s 65-64 showstopper against Florida.
The Wildcats came “ready to play” as their coach Sean Miller said a couple of times on Tuesday night.
The Wildcats led from start to finish and had nearly every possession and play go their way in their 89-64 win at McKale Center. Well, at least it seemed that way, save for a coach-concerning 17 turnovers.
“Those turnovers have to disappear,” said Miller, whose team moved to 9-0 overall and just a day after climbing to No. 4 in the polls.
Turnovers aside, even a circus shot from Nick Johnson to end the first half went in.
And by then the rout was on as UA took a 45-31 halftime lead and continued to pull away for its quick-strike victory over ORU (5-5).
One might have expected – maybe? probably? – a letdown after the improbable last-second win that came against Florida.
“If you are going to be labeled as a great team or a good team and one that could possibly win it (all) you have to play games like that,” said UA senior Solomon Hill. “We have to get over (big wins). … We had to come out with a new focus and put the Florida game behind us.”
Apparently, it’s long in the rearview mirror. UA raced out to a 5-0 lead, stretched it to 21-12 (on a Grant Jerrett 3-pointer) and extended it to 36-20 (on another Jerrett jumper). Jerrett finished with 15 points, nine coming from the 3-point line.
“It was great to see Grant play,” Miller said. “He practices at a higher level that maybe isn’t necessarily seen, but he gained confidence in the last game. You can tell he is starting to believe that he can play this game.”
Said Jerrett: “I just wanted to stay aggressive and stay confident when I catch the ball. I just try to make the simple play.”
Simple is good. But simply getting over its big win over the Gators was a concern for Miller. It was too “emotionally thrilling” and a quick turnaround for Miller not to be concerned.
But Miller said his team, again, was ready, which shows that they are mature beyond its years. It’s the leadership that has helped. And, of course, the coach getting his point across.
“Beating Florida, … it’s not like we just won the national championship,” said Hill. “We still have a lot more games to play.
“Florida beat us last year and I’m pretty sure they didn’t celebrate and they went on and kept going to the Elite Eight. It’s all about preparation.”
Hill, who had 12 points, six rebounds and six steals, was one of the many players who shined for the Cats. Senior Mark Lyons had a team-high 17 points and seven assists; Brandon Ashley had 14 points and six rebounds; Johnson had 12 points and four steals.
Arizona shot a season-high 57.6 percent, had 20 assists on 34 made baskets, had eight blocked shots, had 37 rebounds to ORU’s 27 and hit 8 of 16 3-pointers.
Next, Arizona goes to paradise for a three-game tournament in the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu.
Fun in the sun? Maybe. Miller, in describing the trip, all but said there’s a fine line between being serious and seasonal. After all, it is Christmas and it’s a special time. The trip, sure, is about basketball, but it’s also about perspective.
“It’s that balance of trying to win the tournament (and have a good time),” Miller said. “We want to enjoy each other and enjoy the fact that we are in Hawaii and make the most of that opportunity and try to win every game. At the same time we have to enjoy the fact it’s the holiday season.”
What? Any other coach would say it’s a business trip. Or so you’d think, but Miller said it’s a “very understated feel.”
Miller said that may come from people saying that “there are no heavyweights” in the field.
But he said Miami (Fla.), Mississippi and San Diego State are all pretty good.
“I don’t have to tell anybody about San Diego State,” Miller said. “To me they’ve been the best program in the West for the last seven years – them and Gonzaga. We know they have a great team. We hope we get there.”
Arizona would face San Diego State if both teams win their first two games.
“We’ll learn a lot there,” Miller said.
The Wildcats open tournament play on Dec. 22 against Tennessee State.