Sean Miller is back in the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in his young career. He took Xavier there twice, including once to the Elite Eight, and got back to that point with Arizona two years ago. If he and the Wildcats can get by Ohio State in their next game, they’d be favorites against either Wichita State or La Salle with a trip to the Final Four on the line, though Miller refuses to look at the scenario in that light. Sean Miller joined KNBR in San Francisco with Tom Tolbert to discuss Arizona’s motivation in the NCAA tournament, the big men playing a key role thus far, the focus going forward, point guard Mark Lyons, the need to look into changing flagrant foul rules and the Wildcats’ keys to advancing to the Elite Eight.
Did it help give your team motivation that Belmont seemed to be a fashionable upset pick heading into the tournament?
“We talked about it closer to the game than we did two or three days out. You know how it is, especially in the NCAA tournament, you can really get caught up in all of the things that aren’t going to help you win. … I think every one of us knew that a lot of people felt Belmont could beat us, and they were probably right when you consider how well Belmont shoots. But we came out and we played great defense, played with a lot of energy and did what we were supposed to.”
On your big buys blocking shots and affecting shots in the lane:
“No question, that’s one of the things we probably don’t get enough credit for as a team. We have size at the 5 position. … We have a number of guys who have some size and length around the basket. Obviously, moving forward to the next round against Ohio State, that’s something we’re going to really have to be able to take advantage of.”
Is it easier to get a team to focus on one opponent this week as opposed to last week?
“I think a lot of it has to do with how your team’s playing and what just happened before the NCAA tournament. For us, the way we lost to UCLA and everything that surrounded that game, to me really, I don’t want to say renewed our focus, but I thought created a very focused environment. … Our goal was to obviously beat Belmont and give ourselves a chance against the New Mexico-Harvard winner. … It’s about your team being ready and you have to take care of business to have the opportunity to advance. This next round’s the same way. Some upsets have happened in our region and whoever wins between Ohio State and Arizona, they’re going to get the winner of Wichita State and La Salle. Everybody on the outside is going to make that seem like a layup, but the bottom line is those teams are there for a reason.”
On making sure his point guard, Mark Lyons, doesn’t take it as a one-on-one battle with Aaron Craft:
“I think he’s at a point through trial and error, and also at a point in his career, where he’s smart enough to stay away from that. Obviously we’re talking to him about that as we speak and will continue to do so as the game goes. A lot of guys like to attack Aaron Craft because he gets so much publicity, and rightfully so, because of his defense. … Mark’s not the only guy that’s had to face that.”
Is the NCAA going to have to take a look at the flagrant foul rules?
“No question. Hopefully this offseason and just as we move into the future. … When you have a disadvantage of quickness against quick players, you’re taught to obviously pivot, rip the ball high, rip the ball low. That’s how you created space to get that quick defender away from you, so that you could play the game and be successful. And I’ll also tell you that, if you’re coaching against that right now, if you get hit high, just go down for the count. It’s to your team’s competitive advantage, if you get hit anywhere above the shoulders, unintentionally or intentionally just fall down. … I would agree with you, and it also makes for a lot of delays in the game.”
What are a couple keys to advancing past Ohio State?
“I always feel like our team’s at our best when we play with 10 turnovers or fewer, or even 12 turnovers or fewer. Ohio State’s that elite team that when they get a deflection, a steal, a stop, they’ve got so much firepower in transition coming at you. … It’s a little bit what did us in against UCLA the number of times we lost. Our turnovers led to back-breaking points.”