Miller, No. 23 Arizona want better focus against UCLA

NCAA Basketball
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On a night in which Sean Miller earned his 400th career victory, he was not much in a festive mood on Thursday.

After nearly blowing a 20-point lead, the No. 23 Wildcats held on to beat Southern California 85-80 at Tucson. Arizona did not make a field goal in the last 8:20 of the game.

The Wildcats next host UCLA on Saturday in a matchup of two head coaches who left the city of Cincinnati to coach out West.

Mick Cronin is in his first season with the Bruins after coaching 13 seasons at Cincinnati (2006-19). Miller coached five seasons at Xavier (2004-09) before going to Arizona. Miller holds a 2-1 edge over Cronin from when Xavier matched up with Cincinnati when they coached in the Crosstown Shootout.

By holding on against USC, the Wildcats (16-6, 6-3 Pac-12) kept pace with Oregon and Colorado in the Pac-12 standings. Arizona is tied in the loss column with the Ducks and Buffaloes, both of whom are 7-3.

“We didn’t play well. We didn’t play smart,” said Miller, who is 400-142 in 16 seasons as a head coach, 11 at Arizona. “I really feel like we struggled throughout the game. You can always tell when the group is locked in.

“We had a hard time practicing leading up to the game. I don’t think we had a great shootaround. Although we did a number of good things tonight, there were just too many moments where we reverted to a quick shot for no reason.”

The Trojans outscored Arizona 39-24 over the final 13:31 and they got as close as 83-80 on a 3-pointer by Jonah Mathews with five seconds left, but Nico Mannion hit two free throws with three seconds remaining to lock up the win.

Mannion had 20 points and seven assists to lead Arizona. Fellow freshmen Josh Green and Zeke Nnaji each had 18 points and combined to shoot 12 of 24 from the field. Nnaji finished with 11 rebounds.

Despite winning for the fifth time in six games, Arizona allowed USC to shoot 50 percent — only the third time this season the Wildcats have allowed an opponent to shoot 50 percent or above.

UCLA (12-11, 5-5) won four of five games before falling flat at Arizona State in an 84-66 loss on Thursday. The Bruins allowed the Sun Devils to shoot 58.3 percent from 3-point range (14 of 24) and score 27 fast-break points in the loss.

“When they shoot the ball that way at home, they’re going to beat everybody,” Cronin said during his postgame radio show. “We missed a lot of open shots. That was the only way we were going to win tonight because of the way ASU was shooting. We struggled mightily with that (shooting 37.9 percent from the floor, 28 percent from 3-point range).

“We worked on getting back on defense all week because we wanted to build a wall to prevent them from scoring in transition against us. When they started to pour it on, we let our spirits down. When you are building a program, you’ve got to keep fighting and stay with it. We had some guys do that, and we had some who didn’t.”

Jalen Hill, who leads UCLA with 7.1 rebounds a game, did not play against Arizona State because he sprained his right knee in practice on Wednesday.

Chris Smith had nine points and eight rebounds against the Sun Devils. Tyger Campbell finished with 13 points and five assists, and Cody Riley was the Bruins’ top scorer with 16 points.

–Field Level Media

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