Miller, Rice positioning Arizona, UNLV mentally for intense showdown Saturday


Sean Miller positioned his thumb and pointing finger less than an inch apart and said: “This is our room for error … razor thin.”

This was after Arizona pummeled NAU 92-37, limiting the Lumberjacks to only 13 second-half points. Former Arizona staffer Jack Murphy, NAU’s third-year coach, witnessed his team commit more turnovers (14) than convert field goals (only 12 made out of 55 attempts).

About 400 miles north in Las Vegas, UNLV coach Dave Rice was lamenting his team’s collapse against ASU in the second half, losing to the upstart Sun Devils 66-56 at Thomas & Mack. The Rebels (8-3) play at Arizona (10-1) on Saturday night.

“I was just challenging them, ‘What’s our response? We can’t get this one back,'” Rice said in his postgame radio interview of what he told his team after the game. “We’re all going to go home and not sleep tonight and watch film and come back tomorrow at 11 o’clock and learn from it.”

While Miller is trying to keep his team focused with the daunting Pac-12 schedule ahead — the Sun Devils host the Wildcats in the Pac-12 opener Jan. 3 — Rice is trying to keep the Rebels afloat.

In the first half against NAU, Miller drew a technical foul, rare for him even with former Pac-12 director of officials Ed Rush long gone. Miller argued a non-call on Arizona’s offensive end of the floor. He could have been arguing about dinner plans.

He wanted to send a message to his team that anything less than 100 percent preparation for the grind of the Pac-12 season will not be tolerated.

He told former Arizona standout Matt Muehlebach, a member of the Pac-12 Networks broadcasting crew, at halftime: “We’re not doing anything well Matt. This is more like a ‘me’ game instead of a ‘we’ game. We have to really improve here (at half).”

Miller did not mention names but it was obvious he was not happy about Arizona’s off-guard play with Allonzo Trier and Gabe York combining to shoot 1-of-10 from the field in the first half with three turnovers between them.

Arizona still led comfortably at halftime, 40-24, but Miller could sense a lethargic effort. The Wildcats were 1-of-9 from three-point range and shot only 43.8 percent overall from the field in the first half.

Miller was asked in the postgame press conference by Steve Rivera of if he had that “we” vs. “me” discussion with his team before this game.

“No … I had to in this game,” Miller said. “I did it because you just start hunting shots.

“It doesn’t look right and the first thing that goes is the defense. You can kind of see it and you can feel it. No team, especially this season, is good enough to overcome that type of mentality.”

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PP: Productivity Points (Points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocked shots, FGs made, FTs made added together and then subtracted by missed FGs, missed FTs, personal fouls and turnovers)
MIN: Minutes played overall PR: Productivity rating per minute played (Productivity points divided by minutes played).



Player Pos PP MIN PR
*Ryan Anderson PF 38 19 2.000
Mark Tollefsen SF 38 27 1.407
*Kadeem Allen PG 23 25 .920
*Dusan Ristic C 17 19 .895
Chance Comanche C 12 15 .800
Justin Simon SG 14 18 .778
P.Jackson-Cartwright PG 12 21 .571
*Allonzo Trier SG 8 22 .364
*Gabe York SG 0 28 .000
Jacob Hazzard PG 5 3 1.667
Paulo Cruz SG -1 3 -.333
TOTAL TEAM 172 200 .860

If Miller is concerned about where his team stands, imagine the angst for Rice over his team. The Running Rebels were more like the Recluse Rebels, disappearing in the second half against the Sun Devils after leading 37-25 at halftime.

ASU, playing without leading scorer Savon Goodman because of personal reasons, overwhelmed UNLV 41-19 in the second half.

The Sun Devils took advantage of UNLV’s scoring droughts, including a 1-of-15 stretch to close the game. The Sun Devils used a 19-5 run to tie the game at 50 with eight minutes left in the game. Bobby Hurley’s team finished with a 16-6 run.

The Rebels were outhustled on the boards, losing that category 43-30. They did not have an offensive rebound well into the second half and finished with only seven.

“I know how tough we have to be, how consistent we have to be,” Rice said. “We’ll diagnose the issues and get ready for an extremely difficult game on Saturday at Arizona.

“We have it in us to be right in that game and have a chance to win … but we have to make sure we band together and figure it all out.”

UNLV is in search of itself. Arizona is in search of refining itself.

Are the Rebels the team good enough to almost beat UCLA on a neutral floor in Maui and upset a ranked Oregon team 80-69 in Las Vegas two weeks ago? Or are they the team that fell apart against ASU?

Are the Wildcats capable of putting 40 minutes of good basketball together Saturday against the deepest team it will face to date? To steal Rich Rodriguez’s phrase, can Miller’s team gain that “hard edge” and play with intensity from the start?

When the first 10 minutes against NAU ticked off the scoreboard, only three players (Ryan Anderson, Dusan Ristic and Mark Tollefsen) scored for Arizona. By the end, all nine regulars not only scored but each had at least four points.

Four players were in double figures — Tollefsen (19), Anderson (18), Trier (11) and Ristic (10).

In Arizona’s first loss of the season a year ago at UNLV, only Ristic played out of those four players and he was on the floor only four minutes. Tollefsen was at San Francisco, Anderson was on the bench sitting per NCAA transfer rules and Trier was at Findlay Prep. Kadeem Allen, who redshirted last season and also did not play, used the word “revenge” for Saturday’s game when discussing the pain felt by the Wildcats in the 71-67 setback to the Rebels at Thomas & Mack.

With practically a new cast, Miller hopes the conviction in Allen’s voice is shown on the court against the Rebels.

“We can’t take a half off or take a play off or a game off,” Miller said. “We’re not good enough to do that, very few teams are. We have to stand for something.

“For us, the thing we can always control is our togetherness and effort defensively. We know how to do it. It’s up to us to go out and do it.”

Rice could say the same thing but in a way to get his team off the canvas. Saturday should be interesting from a mental standpoint.

Tarkanian vs. Lute, it is not. But this UNLV vs. Arizona game has the makings of being intense with how each coach is challenging his team.


Player Pos G S PP MIN PR
Ryan Anderson PF 10 10 281 282 .996
Allonzo Trier SG 11 6 191 272 .702
Dusan Ristic C 11 5 130 192 .677
Kaleb Tarczewski C 5 5 76 121 .628
Kadeem Allen PG 11 11 145 232 .625
Mark Tollefsen SF 11 5 146 267 .547
Gabe York SG 11 11 174 333 .523
P.Jackson-Cartwright PG 11 0 75 247 .304
Elliott Pitts SG 7 2 7 149 .047
AVG 5-9.9 MIN
Justin Simon SG 8 0 30 61 .492
Chance Comanche C 9 0 19 54 .352
AVG 1-4.9 MIN
Jacob Hazzard PG 3 0 8 9 .889
Paulo Cruz SG 2 0 -2 6 -.333
TOTAL TEAM 11 1286 2225 .578


Streak Coach Years
71 Lute Olson 1988-91
45 Sean Miller 2013-present
38 Fred Snowden 1975-77
37 Lute Olson 1997-99
22 Sean Miller 2010-11 publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He has also written articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.

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