Two days after criticizing his team's second-half defense, Arizona head coach Sean Miller remained about as critical but also shed some light on where exactly the issues are with the Wildcats.
UA let a 22-point lead get cut in half against Washington State last Saturday before pulling away for a 73-56 win. Miller used the majority of his postgame press conference to blast his team's tendency to ease up on the defensive end and commit fouls. Among the numbers that jumped out at him was Brandon Ashley's five fouls in just 16 minutes off the bench.
"It's really hard to foul out in college basketball, unless you're playing 37, 38 minutes and it's a ferocious game," Miller said after the game. "If you're playing 16 minutes and you have five fouls, that's the officials' fault?"
But Miller ultimately gave his freshmen a pass Monday, chalking up Ashley's disqualification to "a young guy that doesn't have a lot of of experience."
"Our freshmen aren't the problem on defense," Miller said. "I know Brandon had a lot of fouls in a quick period of time, and that's to be expected.
"Those guys have pretty much been the same and they've been on a quest to get better. Picking and choosing effort, I would put the other guys in that category."
The fourth-year head coach later added: "The teams that will be there at the end, that we all admire, will be the teams that don't do that."
The Cougars made just 6 of 17 shots through the first 20 minutes before bouncing back to connect on 52.2 percent of its shots after halftime. WSU also attempted 17 of its 28 free throws in the second half but could not capitalize, converting on just half of its attempts for the game.
Miller said part of the problem, for the entire team, has to do with not being in the proper position on the floor. Miller called the foul discrepancy between halves in recent games "night and day."
"We'll reach once in awhile, which isn't good," Miller said. "Some of our younger players, they're still learning the position.
"Generally, when you foul a lot you're out of position and you're just late. … The reason we were late (against Washington State) is we weren't as locked in on defense as we were in the first half."
Miller wants "more durability" from the Wildcats' defensive effort.
"Being able to do it longer throughout, not just for brief moments or even long stretches and then go away," Miller said. "Just being able to endure from the first possession to the last and try to be good throughout the whole game on defense. When we are that, that's definitely when we're at our best."
Miller added that having a dominant defensive presence would help, almost like having a standout cornerback in football. Miller said Kyle Fogg was that player for the 'Cats last season, much like Andre Roberson currently is for Colorado.
"The value of him isn't just him - it's what he does for the other players and the different things you're able to do because you can trust him at such an exceptional level," Miller said.
But Fogg was not much of a defender the first time he set foot on the Tucson campus. Several times last season, Miller recalled how Fogg was one of the worst Wildcats on defense.
Fogg was not exactly a heralded freshman, however, much like most of the first-year players now on the team.
Miller said it is common for several standout freshmen to come into the college ranks without much polish on defense, not maturing on that end of floor until they reach the NBA.
"Our game, college basketball has taken on this life of its own with young players," Miller said. "The expectations for these guys have never been greater
"They just don't have the number of repetitions and experience that upperclassmen and older players have."
And that brings us back to the core of Miller's frustration.
After the win, Kevin Parrom, the hero with five 3-pointers for the Wildcats that afternoon, said it was up to himself, Solomon Hill, Mark Lyons and Nick Johnson to set the tone and show that it is not OK to just play the score.
"We have to keep playing," Parrom said. "There's where I come into play, that's where Solomon comes into play, that's where Mark and Nick come into play. We have to keep playing even though we have a big lead. I think we were up by about 14 or 15 and guys took their foot off the pedal.
"Don't give the other team confidence - and that's what we did in the second half."
Miller does not want to see his team settle for just a Pac-12 Conference regular-season championship, but instead work to achieve something far greater.
"Maybe we haven't been consistent in giving extraordinary effort - the effort that maybe we need to become a great team," Miller said.