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NCAA: Open-Practice Day in the Books
By: Arizona Athletics
Release: March 27, 2013
Photo Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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March 27, 2013

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LOS ANGELES--UA's men's basketball team inched closer to its NCAA West Regional matchup against No. 7 and 2-seed Ohio State with a pair of workouts and the attendant open-practice day media festivities here at Staples Center.

No. 21 Arizona, the West's 6th seed, plays its Sweet 16 regional semifinal against the Buckeyes at 4:47 p.m. (PDT/MST) Thursday. The winner advances to an Elite Eight showdown Saturday against the winner of the La Salle-Wichita State game which follows the Cats-Buckeyes tilt at Staples.

UA awoke for an 8:30 breakfast after chartering to the area around 9 p.m. Tuesday from Tucson, then practiced for about 90 minutes at USC's Galen Center before moving a few miles away to 19,282-seat Staples Center for the NCAA's prescribed 50-minute open session.

Head Coach Sean Miller had some private time with Turner-CBS producers and talent on site for the event -- announcers Kevin Harlan, Len Elmore, Reggie Lewis and Lewis Johnson on the TV side, and Wayne Larrivee and former ASU coach Bill Frieder who are hand for the NCAA Radio broadcast.

Miller and players Solomon Hill, Mark Lyons and Nick Johnson took part in some formal podium time in the interview room while UA's locker room -- that used normally by the Los Angeles Kings of the NHL -- was open to the media for half an hour to allow interviews of all players and coaches.

That's all preparation for all parties with regard to coverage of the event, while Miller, staff and the Wildcats began the final steps of mental and physical readiness for the serious NCAA tournament competition against the highly regarded Buckeyes.


(Courtesy: FastScripts by ASAP Sports)

THE MODERATOR: Coach Miller, an opening comment, please?

COACH MILLER: Well, we're very excited to be here in LA. We have quite a few players from Southern California on our current team, certainly on a lot of our past teams. For our great fans, this is an area that's very easy for them to get to, and we look forward to all of those things coming together for us here tomorrow.

We know that we're playing against a great team, a team that's been in a Final Four a year ago. Several members of this year's team at Ohio State have won multiple Big Ten championships, whether it's in the tournament or during the regular season.

I know this year the Big Ten was an incredible conference. The fact that they've won, I believe, ten games in a row coming in, we know that it's about Arizona being at our best. Anything less, we won't be able to beat a team as good as Ohio State is.

So we look forward to that opportunity, and grateful to be here in the Sweet 16.

Q. I'd seen it written the match up between you and Thad is kind of frienemies. Can you talk about the mindset you take into the game against him this time, and also what he's meant to your career?

COACH MILLER: Yeah, I think if we were playing a regular season game, our relationship might affect things a little bit more, but when you're playing for a berth in the Elite 8 or an opportunity to become a part of the Final Four, it's so much about the team, the game, the players, and both of our teams. So I think both of us are really focused on preparing and being at our best.

Having said that, when you lose the game, and hopefully that won't be me, it's a little bit easier, I believe, to deal with, because no matter who Ohio State plays, I always cheer for them because of my relationship with Thad.

What he's meant to me is simply, I wouldn't be here today without him. I learned a lot from him, enjoyed being around him when we worked together, and we remain very good friends.

Q. Thad is three time zones away from home, and when he can control the schedule, he doesn't do this a lot. I wanted to ask you about your background with him when you were at Xavier, was he as averse to travel at Xavier as he is now, and why is that, if you know?

COACH MILLER: No question about it. When we would go recruiting together at Xavier, we could be as far as eight hours away, and it could be 10 o'clock at night, and he would give you that look like, why don't we just get home? And you'd just say to yourself, why don't we just stay in the hotel and drive tomorrow morning or fly?

But it was always drive, and it was always there and back. You're right. He doesn't like to go far from home. That's probably what makes him as great as he is at Ohio State because of the terrific location for recruiting and everything that surrounds that place.

But I guess if there's one small advantage we have, we have him in a place that he's not real familiar with, a long way from home.

Q. If you would talk a little bit about the Buckeyes on the court and what they do that concerns you there?

COACH MILLER: Well, I watch Ohio State a lot. I think they're a remarkable defensive team. You can admire the way they play defense. It starts not only with Aaron Craft, who I think is the best at what he does defensively.

But Shannon Scott to me doesn't get nearly enough credit. They almost have two guards that just ball hawk your team and make defense easier sometimes for their other players. But they do it really, really well. They're connected. They play with great effort, and it's amazing how well they play defense against the conference that they played in.

On offense, it's not like they're a bad team on offense. I think they're really good. They're not as talented, maybe, as some of the most recent Ohio State teams, but they make up for it with really unselfishness and togetherness. They have a guy that gets 20 every night, Deshaun Thomas. Who from a scoring perspective, is as good as it gets.

They play together on both ends of the floor. Aaron Craft is exceptional at what he does. Deshaun Thomas is equally exceptional at what he does, and they have a lot of other good players that play Ohio State basketball.

Q. I don't want to belabor it, but how many times have you thought about Ron Lewis that you didn't foul him or maybe you didn't want to foul him? And also that Oden's foul easily could have been called an intentional foul?

COACH MILLER: You're trying to jinx me, I think. The one thing about the NCAA Tournament, and you want to play in great games. We all want to win, but it's much easier to leave that game and go into the spring knowing that your team played really well and hard.

And on that night, several years ago, that's exactly what happened. It was an epic game. Our team, we had one player on our team, Justin Cage, who I think went 11 for 11 from the field in that game. We did some remarkable things. Played at a very high level.

But you're right; that taught me really one lesson, in particular, that you have to have an overall philosophy if your team's winning by three. Some coaches believe in fouling, some coaches don't.

But when you lose a game like that, you tend to lean on what you didn't do more. So I believe that I'm a better coach having gone through that.

In terms of the Greg Oden deal, it's probably one of the many reasons that the monitor is now in play. And if that same play would happen in today's game, it may be looked at completely different, and maybe the outcome would be different. But you can make the case that that has bettered our game.

Q. You obviously recruited Mark Lyons at Xavier several years ago. Can you just talk about your relationship with him and how that played a part in him coming out to Arizona for his final year? Also, he mostly played off the ball until this year. Talk about his development as a point guard who handles the ball now?

COACH MILLER: Well, I was the head coach at Xavier, and we recruited Mark Lyons. He committed to us fairly early in the process, I believe his junior year of high school. So if you go through that right now, that's about seven or eight years ago. He came to Xavier. He was a partial qualifier.

So when I was the head coach there in my last year, he was a part of everything we did, except we couldn't travel and play in games. But we grew to know each other. This past spring when things moved in another direction for him, I'm grateful that he came with us. He had plenty of other opportunities. What he gives us is a dynamic scorer from the back court, somebody who believes in himself, has great confidence. So many times that confidence and belief is spread to his teammates.

The analogy I would use in describing Mark is he's kind of like that running college quarterback. You want to put him in a position to do the things that he does instinctively well, and we're constantly asking him to get better at some of the things that maybe aren't quite as natural.

But it's really worked out for us, I know that. We wouldn't be here today if Mark wasn't a part of our team.

Q. I was just curious. I know you and Thad obviously talk a lot about basketball philosophy. Does the 2007 game ever come up between the two of you or is that sort of a taboo subject almost?

COACH MILLER: Yeah, it worked out really well for one of us and not very well for me. We don't really bring it up very much. When we talk, it's usually like friends do, not necessarily about basketball, but about the things that are going on in what we do.

But Thad is a tremendous coach because he's so unassuming and he doesn't bask in the limelight or maybe travel or like to go places that a lot of other coaches tend to do. He probably doesn't get enough credit for just the bottom line, and that is the great success that he's had.

If you just go by numbers, wins, championships, especially in that conference, the ability to get to the Final Four, you could make the argument that he's well on his way to a Hall of Fame career and one of the game's best coaches. That is certainly the category that I put him in. It's not really because he's my friend. I believe that he's earned that right. When you play against his teams, that is the hardest part, is that he has a really good team and they're well coached. They play together, and they don't beat themselves. For us, we can't beat ourselves and we have to do the same things to have a chance here tomorrow.

Q. I know you've heard along with the rest of us and critics and people saying the west region is the worst regional or not going to be the sexy one. If you had to put your marketing cap on, how would you sell these two match ups?

COACH MILLER: If it's the worst regional, good, great. I'm glad I'm here. I mean, the thing about the tournament is nobody looks back and says, boy, what an easy road or hard road. You either advanced or you didn't; you either won and moved on. One of the things that strikes me about the tournament is that you go from what we're doing right now and the build up toward this is great game that we've all hoped we could be a part of.

Then if you lose about 15 minutes later, someone comes in and says, Coach, your plane will be leaving in about an hour, and the other team moves and the stage continues to grow.

I don't think you can worry about who you're playing, how you got here. We're in the Sweet Sixteen. There are four teams here in the west region, and I know the team that we're playing tomorrow can win a National Championship.

So we have to focus on trying to compete against them and be at our best. If this region isn't strong, thank goodness. I'm glad we're here.

Q. How about the other two? Could they win?


Q. Uh huh.

COACH MILLER: I believe so. Certainly. We were in Salt Lake City and Wichita State played Gonzaga after us. If you were at that game, like we were live, you got a real firsthand glimpse of how good, how physical, what a great basketball team Wichita State is.

I know John Giannini from my days in the Atlantic Ten. I'm not as familiar with La Salle. But I think to get to this point, you have to be really good.

Q. Coach, a lot of the Pac 12 coaches speak very fondly of Solomon. What do you feel in your opinion is an underrated aspect of his game, and why does that make him so pivotal to you guys?

COACH MILLER: Well, I said it after the last game, Solomon Hill reminds me of Damien Wilkins who has had a long NBA career. I had the opportunity to be on the staff with Damien many years ago. And I say that because Solomon's greatest characteristic, like Damien's is his will, his incredible work ethic, his competitive spirit.

He's been our best practice player from the day he stepped on our campus as a freshman to his last days others a senior. Each week, and I know a lot of coaches do things like this, we reward our best practice player, statistically, every statistic that you can put into it, with a gold jersey.

So that player wears the gold jersey for the next week. While he has the gold jersey on, he doesn't have to run for losing and do those things.

This week, in Solomon's final week here, where we're at, he has the gold jersey, which I think is fitting. Because if I'm not mistaken, he might have had it in the first month of his freshman year.

So he's a terrific player, but what he embodies is really far more than that. He's a leader. He's matured off the court as much as any kid I've been around, and we're really proud of him. He deserves to be here, and I know that with him on our team, it's one of the many reasons we feel like we can advance.

Q. I think I've read that when you were first hired and hired as an assistant at Xavier, you actually stayed with Thad for a while. Can you tell us about the circumstances that led to that?

COACH MILLER: Yeah, you move from one place to the next when you change jobs and you don't necessarily have a house. My wife was pregnant with our third son at the time, and we were that young family going from first base to second base. We did. We stayed with him.

As a matter of fact, we were talking about that on the way out here. If it was a couple of weeks, it probably felt like a couple months to Thad and his wife, but we were more than happy to take them up on their offer. But we remain good friends, and that's probably one of the fun things about being here in this region.

Q. Lot of talk about Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft. But who else on the Ohio State roster worries you and why?

COACH MILLER: Sam Thompson and Lenzelle Smith are two really good players. Shannon Scott, a very good player. I think if Aaron Craft was injured or went away or graduated, you'd see Shannon Scott just blossom because he has a lot of talent in his own right.

But when both of these guys are out there together, Craft and Scott, they have two point guards. And they have two point guards not only on offense, but once again, to me what makes Ohio State really good is the way they defend.

Those two guys, they really hawk the ball. It's like having two shut down cornerbacks in football. It makes the game easier for the rest of the defense. You can do different things, and those two guys are really good. But they have great balance. They know their roles and they do them well.

Q. I'm curious, how often do you and Thad talk? During the season, do you talk frequently and in the off season? I'm also cure do you ever help, if you were to lose in the tournament, would you help him or would he help you if you had played an opponent before?

COACH MILLER: Sure, we would help each other. We talk frequently, infrequently. Sometimes a month can go by and we're both caught up in our own worlds. We don't live in the same time zone, so it's not as easy to communicate as it once was. But I would say throughout the year, whether it be text messaging or leaving a message or just talking, a couple times a month. If a month would go by, certainly a number of times during the year. But I think the biggest way is we stay in touch.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for the student athletes.

Q. This is sort of considered the least sexy, least exciting regional. You've got the school with the private beach, the coach with the model wife, but this section, how would you guys what's interesting and exciting, and how would you guys sell this match up to the rest of the country?

Mark Lyons: I don't even know how to answer that. We're just happy to be here. We're not caught up in all the sexiness and all of that. I feel like my teammates are handsome, you know. But that's beyond the point.

Solomon Hill: Well, I think you can kind of settle the Coach Miller thing and Thad Matta, and two underdogs on the other side of the bracket or not bracket, but on the other side, Wichita State and La Salle are two good teams making their own case, not as exciting as Florida Gulf Coast, but they're doing justice for their schools and setting the standards for their schools.

Nick Johnson: What they said.

Q. How about being in the Sweet Sixteen with another team, what's that mean to you? Also, talk a little about the mission you've been on the last couple games and how hot you've gotten recently?

Mark Lyons: It feels good to be here with these guys. This is what I came here for. My teammates, I knew before I got here that they had a lot of faith in me; my coach had a lot of faith in me. When I committed here, I didn't expect anything else but to go as far as I could in the NCAA Tournament.

Like I said last week, our guys have been getting me the ball in the right positions. We've been playing off each other and the ball has just been falling.

Q. When you decided to leave Xavier, why did you choose Arizona? You had some options. What made you come out to Arizona and how has this year gone for you, and how do you think your Sweet Sixteen experience will help you personally tomorrow night?

Mark Lyons: Honestly, two main reasons why I came out here was the coaching staff. I knew Coach Miller, Coach Richardson, and James Whitford since I was 15 years old. So I knew the system, I knew everything about those guys and I knew they had a lost faith in me. And I talked to mostly every guy on the team, especially Nick and Solomon and Kevin. I asked them how they felt about me coming here and playing with them. And they told me, we need a point guard, and they were more than happy to have me. And it was an easy decision for me because I had guys who believed in me from the start.

Q. Solomon, you grew up literally just miles from where we're sitting right now. Was Staples Center a venue that you looked at when you were a youngster and said, I would really like to play there? And subsequently, what is it like now that you're playing one of your final few college games here?

Solomon Hill: Not really. I watched a lot of games on TV. I wasn't a huge fan of the Lakers. But it's a little different. As you get older, you start to understand the magnitude of games when you play inside a building like the Staples Center. I think we've played Pac 10 Tournament championship games in here, but it's going to be a different atmosphere, kind of like the one we had in Anaheim a couple years ago.

But it's exciting. I think guys live up to the moment. I think Cheeks has really stepped up for us big in the crunch time, and I look forward to seeing a different crowd when we play here in the Staples Center tomorrow.

Q. How important is it tomorrow's match up between you and Aaron Craft? And what impact do you think that will have on the final outcome of the game?

Mark Lyons: Honestly, I'm just trying to win games. Everybody is caught up in this one on one match up, and I'm not looking at it like that. If my team wins, all of us look good, and that's all that really matters.

Q. Solomon, Coach talked about your energy, your effort, the gold jersey. How important is it to you to set that example for the rest of your teammates as you guys continue on this journey?

Solomon Hill: I think it's the biggest thing, and it's been the key reasons why we start off the way we have been in the past two games. Rebounding has been a big thing of the difference in games and limiting guys to second shots and just getting the team started off in the first four minutes.

Just getting the younger guys to understand that every time you step on the floor, you leave it all out there, kind of how I do it in practice. If you're slacking in practice, they're going to make an example out of you. It's just to prepare you for a game like this.

Every possession matters. It doesn't come down to the last ten seconds of the game. It's the whole build up to the end of the game. So guys can't just turn it on, you have to turn it on in the beginning if you want to finish that way.

Q. When you saw a video of Ohio State's defense, did it remind you of anyone you've played? Did it seem more intense than anybody you've played this year?

Solomon Hill: There are certain things that they do that other teams have done. They down ball screens. The first two teams we played in the tournament do the same thing. So it was all about just keeping the same reps that we did in practice. They have a couple big guys. We still like to get the ball down low to our bigs, and really get them going. I think Kaleb, Brandon, and Grant have been playing magnificent for us.

But we just have to stay with what we do. It's not really about what they do on defense. It's about how we execute on the offensive end.

Q. How much do you think you'll be with Thomas being at the four for them, how much do you think you'll be at the four tomorrow, and do you normally swing between the four and the three in most games?

Solomon Hill: Well, at a defensive standpoint, I'll be guarding him from a three or the four. That will be my primary hatch up. He's their go to guy. It's a lot of set that's they run for him to get him open, get him shots. The mismatch problem shouldn't be a big issue with us because I'm playing at the four and the three.

But I'll be guarding him regardless. I think LaQuinton Ross is a different guy that we have to have guys keyed in on. I think he's the big spark off the bench. He's a starter at any other team, and our young guys have to be prepared for him to really put it on the floor and shoot the outside shot.

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