HONOLULU – After his team won the Diamond Head Classic to improve to 12-0, pulling out nail-biters against Florida and San Diego State over a 10-day span, Sean Miller may have made an understatement.
“Our guys need a break,” he said.
The Wildcats are flying home today and will have Thursday, Friday and Saturday off before resuming practice on Sunday to prepare for a Jan. 3 game with Colorado and the beginning of Pac-12 play.
Some of the Western-based players will take a break to go home, though Mark Lyons of Schenectady, N.Y. said he will simply hang out and get back to work.
“Just head back to Tucson, enjoy my couple of days of and get ready for Colorado,” Lyons said.
Miller had reason to give the Wildcats a break, and reason to think they can handle the layoff. Tuesday’s championship game was intense and physical, with neither team leading by more than two points for the last 10 minutes.
Yet UA survived.
SDSU is “just a very good team and a hard -playing team, physical and tough-minded,” Miller said after the game. “Tonight was a real test for us to see if we could match that toughness. One of the things that our team has shown through 12 games is we’re resilient. We have a good heart. We really care and we play the game hard.”
“Those are all good things," Miller said. "Sometimes that means more than how good of a shooting team you are. Or how skilled you are. That can make up for a lot of that.
In this case, UA overcame the fact that it shot only 37.3 percent from the field and hit just 5 of 20 three-pointers. That, and the fact that the Wildcat had only eight turnovers.
“And to win a tournament, you have to get contributions from a lot of guys and that’s the other thing about our team, we have a number of different players who can step up and I thought Kevin Parrom was a big difference in tonight’s game.”
Parrom had 17 points, hitting 3 of 5 three-pointers andfive rebvounds, with two assits, a steal and no turnovers against the Aztecs.
He also made sure the Wildcats won the game after chasing down the deflection of Nick Johnson’s game-winning block, letting time expire.
“We made individual bad decisions but we stuck together as a team,” Solomon Hill said. “ Brandon made some plays around the rim and Nick made a huge play with the block. It was the game with a couple of runs. It was close in the end and we finished.”
Arizona’s eight turnovers tied a season-low it set during the Nov. 11 opener with Charleston Southern, and was only the second game when it kept turnovers in a single figure.
“That more than made up for sometimes our inability to score,” Miller said.
“But I don’t think we had a bad shooting night. I think we played against a great defense. That’s the difference. They make you earn shots. And playing with eight turnovers gave us a lot of shots at that the basket .
All but one of the turnovers came after the first four minutes of each half, too.
“That was a big reason we won,” Miller said. “They also had 16 turnovers, so eight turnovers for us and 16 for them was probably the most lopsided stat you can see.”
Miller again praised Hill, who was named the Diamond Head Classic MVP after scoring 21 points against the Aztecs and guarding SDSU leading scorer Jamaal Franklin, who was scoreless in the first half.
“I give Solomon a lot of credit if you saw him as a freshmen and saw how far he’s come, how hard he’s worked,” Miller said. “When he first came to Arizona he had a lot to learn defensively. I would say he was a lot more ready on the offensive end than he was on the defense.
“Through years of hard work and especially this offseason, he’s been in fantastic condition and his defensive effort not only in this game but throughout the 12 games is one of the reasons we’re 12-0. He did a fantastic job on Franklin, guarded him almost every possession.”
Miller benched Mark Lyons for over five minutes after he picked up his fourth foul with 13:23 to go, reinserting him at the eight-minute mark. Initially he played Nick Johnson at point guard and went big with Kevin Parrom at shooting guard, though he later turned to Jordin Mayes.
“Just giving a different look,” Miller said. “We kept Nick in and kept Kevin in because he was playing so well.”
Miller reflected on the SDSU series, with the Aztecs winning twice against Miller before losing Tuesday.
“The first time that we played them was my first year and they could have beaten us by 70,” Miller said of the 63-46 loss in 2009-10. “It felt like that too. But we’ve gotten better. And a year ago, although it wasn’t one of our best teams, they had an excellent team. They came out with a lot of poise and were out to a really fast start. We fought back but we weren’t good enough to beat them.
“No question we knew this was an opportunity to play against a very good program and a great team. So it means a lot to beat them. And if we would have lost this game I thought we fought really hard. You’re not going to win them all.
"I’m really proud of our efforts. We’ve really had to negotiate through some bad times. We had different lineups out there, had Mark in foul trouble for the majority of the second half. We played small but we just stayed with it and that’s one of the characteristics of our team. We did the same thing in the Florida game where it looked like we weren’t going to win but we stayed with it and found a way.”
Here's the official box score.