Despite 31 points from freshman Azuolas Tubelis, the Arizona Wildcats were overwhelmed by the USC Trojans Thursday night, resulting in a 87-73 home loss. The defeat drops Arizona to 9-2 overall and 3-2 in Pac-12 play.
Our full recap can be found here, and here’s the video and transcript of UA head coach Sean Miller’s postgame press conference.
On how USC broke the game open: “This isn’t a stat sheet that you see very often. USC was 21 for 28 in the second half from the field. I give them a lot of credit, especially Isaiah White. Coming into the game, he was a borderline double-figure scorer. More of a power forward playing a small forward position and doing a really good job for their team. But he went 3 for 5 from 3 and had 22 points. Isaiah Mobley and Evan Mobley, those two guys are a handful. You start mixing in Chavez Goodwin and someone like Isaiah White does what he did tonight, I mean, it’s tough for us to beat a team that goes 21 for 28 in the second half from the floor, 4 for 6 from 3, 6 for 8 from the line. I mean, they had 31 field goals and shot 58%. They were also eight for 14 from 3, so our defense was porous.
“There may have been times when we were in the right position, and maybe they hit a tough, hard-earned shot. But for the most part they got whatever they wanted. In the first half, it was our fouling. In the second half, when we needed the big stop, or consecutive stops to really make this a one possession game or a game where we could win, we never could quite get that. And then simultaneously, Jemarl (Baker Jr.) and then James (Akinjo) have been very good for our team. Not every game is going to go a player’s way. But in the Pac-12, it’s going to be hard for us to overcome 1 for 15 from our starting backcourt. One for 15, 0 for 7 from 3. The loss doesn’t fall on their shoulders at all. It’s just every team in the country starts a backcourt—a point guard and a 2. And if that starting backcourt goes 1 for 15, that’s an uphill battle.”
On what USC did to successfully defend Baker and Akinjo: “Well, USC is a good defensive team. I would say that their defense is ahead of their offense until tonight. But you have to watch the film, no question. You have to give credit. Their length can bother every team that plays them, but we also had some good looks. We had some good drives. We had some shots around the basket. We had some open opportunities from the perimeter. And obviously it wasn’t just Jemarl or James, I’m not here playing the blame game. It is what it is. Like I said, those two guys are a terrific backcourt for us. We’ve won some games because of how good they have been. Tonight, they just didn’t have it shooting. And in a game like USC, we have to be good on offense. We have to make shots. We have to take care of the ball. And we have to be much, much better on defense.”
On Tubelis’ performance: “It was an awesome game. There’s not too many freshmen that I’ve coached that have 31 in a Pac-12 game against the talent level that was on the court. He’s getting better and more comfortable. A big reason we were in the game for most of it was because of his just individual effort. There have been times in the first 10 games where Azuolas has been in foul trouble. He’s had his freshmen moments, freshmen mistakes, but we’ve relied on our back court. We’ve relied on some guys that have really been consistent. And tonight it almost flipped. He was terrific and we needed those guys to be better shooting the ball. I’ll also tell you, you get into a game where you can’t get a stop and you can’t make a shot, it’s hard to keep fighting. And I don’t think we fought to the end. I really don’t. I thought it just became too hard. We were overwhelmed. And we gave up down the homestretch which is disappointing and something that clearly we will fix as we get ready. A year ago, we had our way I think in the first home game against USC, played a good game, maybe withstood a comeback, had a day in between, and UCLA they came in and really took it to us. My hope is we can flip the script, but it doesn’t get any easier. We’re going to have to play better, we have to shoot better. Clearly, our defense has to be tougher.”
On Arizona’s struggles defending the post in the second half: “I’m not gonna say miscommunication (as if) all of a sudden teams are scoring and we can’t communicate. They executed. They were simple in what they did. They were better at their execution than us. And look, they have some good players. You get the ball in and around the rim to a number of guys on their team, they will deliver. And tonight when they kicked the ball out, when they made the one more pass, they drilled 3-point shots. I thought a big segment in the game was in transition, without them running any offense, they had back-to-back 3-point shots. And that’s a breakdown for us going from offense to defense, right? You’re on offense, the ball doesn’t go in or you have a turnover, you got to turn, point, sprint, fix it, and identify the ball, find shooters and get back. That becomes more difficult as you keep missing shots. And I really thought that our missed shots started to affect us on the defensive side of the ball. It affected our energy, it affected our cohesiveness, and basketball just it’s not a fun sport when you can’t make a shot. And I thought we went through long stretches tonight where we had that and we were playing against a team that was too good on offense for us to be able to overcome that. Again, I could point to our shooting, but they were 31 for 53 from the field, 21 for 28 from the field in the second half. Clearly they got what they wanted. They scored a lot of their points in and around the basket. When they made the kick out pass, their shooters delivered.”
On whether Miller is considering changing the starting lineup: “Terrell Brown Jr. played 24 minutes and did what he does. He was 4 for 8 from 2, 10 points, three assists, no turnovers, and I thought he played his role and did really what we’ve become accustomed to him doing. But with one loss, just like with a road sweep in Washington, it’s never quite as good as it seems. With the loss, it’s not, ‘let’s change everything.’ I think we have to see it for what it is. And we struggled. This loss does not fall on Jemarl or James at all. You win as a team and you lose as a team. It’s just hard in a game like tonight with the talent level on their side for us to overcome the shooting.”
On whether Baker is limited by a tweaked ankle: “He could be limited. He was able to practice yesterday but he did turn his ankle in the Washington State game. I think Jamal will be fine. We’ll be careful tomorrow. Hopefully, like all of our players and our coaching staff that, we can put this game behind us, learn from it, grow from it, be better, and have a chance to compete against a very good UCLA team.”