Kerr: Arizona’s defense is ‘nasty’

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Steve Kerr, one of Arizona’s all-time great basketball players, is steadfast and sure when it comes to his broadcasts of college and basketball. That’s exactly how his career was at Arizona.

And Kerr will be impartial for two hours during the TBS broadcast of the Arizona’s Sweet 16 game against San Diego State on Thursday.

How he feels after will probably depend on how Arizona. But in evaluating the Wildcats on Wednesday right after the team’s media shootaround, Kerr said he likes what he sees in his alma mater.

"They are phenomenal defensively and really well-prepared and well-coached," Kerr said from the Honda Center. "It’s the best team has had in a long time."

It’s arguably the best since 2001 when the likes of Richard Jefferson, Gilbert Arenas and Luke Walton roamed the court. The program’s best defense ever?

"It’s the best defense I’ve ever seen Arizona have," said Kerr, who played on Arizona’s first Final Four team in 1988.

Former Arizona coach Lute Olson has said it rivals the 2001 team when it comes to defense and said, too, this one could be better.

"Sean is more defensive-minded and I think Lute was more offensive-minded," Kerr said. "But the combination of preparation, athleticism and attention to detail makes these guys a nasty defense."

Arizona has limited teams to just 38 percent shooting this season, including 32 percent from beyond the 3-point line.

No egos allowed

Arizona has been one of the best teams in the country for more than half the season if not all of it. They share the ball and they truly like one another. Heck, many live together. So how has Miller kept the team playing so well together, free of egos and problems. Well, he said he has a good group.

And older players have meshed with younger players.

"I give the younger players just as much credit (as the older ones) because Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, (Elliott) Pitts — those guys are as easy to deal with as incoming freshmen as I’ve ever dealt with," Miller said. "Not only are they really good players, but all of them came here knowing how to win. They listen. They’re good teammates. We’ve had very few issues off the court, almost none. As a coach, you coach. Players play. We’ve been able to improve and stick with it because of that."

Fearless Aztecs

Last weekend, Miller used the word "fearless’ when talking about San Diego State, a team that is 31-4 this season.  What did Miller mean?

"I think they’re a confident program," Miller said, "not a team, but a confident program. I’ve been in their shoes at Xavier (his last school).  A lot of times they have a healthy chip on their shoulder, and I mean that in a positive way. They are out to prove they are better than the outside world has them credit (for)."

Miller said one has to give the program a double-take with all the success it has had. It’s the second Sweet 16 in three years, playing "ironically" at the same venue the two teams played three years ago under different circumstances. Figure that SDSU had 13 losing seasons in 14 years before Steve Fisher arrived in 1999.

"Not only do they have a great product on the court, but you can tell their program has just a rabid, passionate following," Miller said.

Familiar building

Arizona has had some memorable games at the Honda Center. Not always good ones. In 1998, Arizona lost to Utah, 76-51, that prevented Arizona from going to the Final Four. In 2003, it happened again when Arizona lost to Kansas 78-75, keeping Arizona from the Final Four.

But in 2011, Arizona defeated Duke in a romp, only to lose to eventual national champion Connecticut.

Connecticut defeated San Diego State that season to get to play Arizona in the Elite Eight.

"I still haven’t watched that game," SDSU coach Steve Fisher said. "And, I still think we were better than Connecticut when they won the national championship."

Fisher did like that SDSU has played here before because "we like the feel of (the building)."