Gimino: Arizona at a crossroads after loss to Oregon
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The first public thing Arizona coach Sean Miller did after Thursday night's loss was to talk about what he loves about the other team.
The Oregon Ducks, he said on his postgame radio interview, are a hard-playing team. They're together. They love each other. They care about the program. They care about the university.
Collectively, they are even better than the sum of their talented parts.
"You can feel that they are playing for the cause," Miller said with a tinge of envy, "and that cause is to win."
Miller quickly, directly and deliberately drew a stark contrast between Oregon -- an 83-75 winner and conqueror of the Wildcats' 49-game home winning streak -- and his own team, whose play he later described as a "disaster."
Now, it's often the case around these Tucson parts that fans tend to lose their minds whenever Arizona loses. It's been a rare thing, especially in the past few years, and the infrequent defeats often are followed by the spewing of an inordinate amount of overreaction.
The best course of action, if anybody were to ask me, is usually to shrug. It's one game. Stuff happens. Arizona will be fine. Stay the course!
Thursday night's loss feels different.
So, while Miller said Oregon "represents everything that is good in basketball," he ended up being a 3-D coach when talking about his own team -- dejected, disheartened, disappointed.
Miller: "Where we are right now, it's not a good place."
Miller: "I have never been more down looking at a team I coached than what I just saw."
Miller: "I've never been more disappointed than I am tonight."
The loss to Oregon feels more like a crossroads than a blip in a long regular season.
Some of what ails Arizona should be cured by the return of Allonzo Trier, possibly on pace to return from a broken hand at home against UCLA on Feb. 12.
He balances the offense. He is Gabe York's best friend on the court. Without Trier, opponents can use their best perimeter defender on York and focus on him. Can't do that when Trier is playing with him on the opposite wing.
Right now, York is trying to do too much ... if only because no one else is.
Something that has stuck with me all season is something former Arizona player and current TV analyst Corey Williams said at the start -- Who is the Wildcats' alpha male?
Where have you gone, T.J. McConnell?
"We're a collection of guys right now that are independent," Miller said.
York and center Kaleb Tarczewski are fourth-year seniors, but they have been supporting players and never the most vocal guys on the court.
Senior forwards Ryan Anderson and Mark Tollefsen are transfers. Point guard Kadeem Allen is a junior college transfer. Trier, when he comes back, is only a freshman.
They have had reasons to defer to the other players, other veterans.
My two cents: Turn this team over to Allen.
Miller earlier this week described Allen's emerging all-around play as being reminiscent of Nick Johnson. Allen tends to have strong first halves -- eight assists, six points vs. Oregon -- but then tapers off. But he finished with only 10 assists and nine points Thursday night, perhaps feeling it's not his place to be taking over in crunch time.
But he can create, he's strong, his shot has come around and, unless I've totally missed the mark, he's tough.
I asked Miller earlier this week if it was a case of Allen perhaps holding something back as he figures out his role on the team.
"Kadeem is one of those guys who wonders if he belongs," Miller said.
"He wonders if he's good enough. He asks himself, how is this going to go for me? I think he has left that now in his past. It's now, "This is for me. I want to be as good a player as I can become. I love being here. I'm going to get the most out of this place.'"
Time to show it.
Arizona needs somebody to take charge on the court, to drag the best effort out of his teammates, to take the ball and tell everyone else to get the hell out of his way.
As is it, Arizona is 20 games into the season, sitting at 4-4 in the Pac-12, and Miller is still having to coach effort.
The play that preceded his blowup with Tarczewski on the bench Thursday night was the center's lackluster attempt to go after a long rebound. That wasn't the first Arizona case of such an undistinguished attempt at securing a 50-50 ball against Oregon.
"This isn't tennis. This is basketball," Miller said, carefully choosing his words about the incident with Tarczewski.
"There is accountability on offense and defense. You win as a team, you lose as a team. I'll stop right there."
A year ago, that would have McConnell, cheeks flushed, getting in a teammate's face over a subpar effort.
All is not lost.
Right now, the Wildcats don't have a true wing. Ray Smith (ACL) never made it to the season, Trier is out, Elliott Pitts is still missing because of his "personal issue."
With Trier back, and a month to practice with the team that Arizona will take into the postseason, the Wildcats could actually be hitting their stride by mid-March.
But, unlike previous losses in recent seasons, it can't be business as usual.
Is it fixable?
"I don't know," Miller said. "I don't know."
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