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March 17, 2017

Sean Miller

Allonzo Trier

Rawle Alkins

Salt Lake City, Utah

Q. What's the biggest takeaway for you guys from that game last night against North Dakota and warming up for tomorrow night's game against Saint Mary's, what do you expect from the Gaels in the second round of the tournament?
RAWLE ALKINS: Our biggest takeaway from last night is that we have to rebound the ball. We have to rebound and defend. Saint Mary's, they're kind of the opposite of North Dakota being that they play slow. They play a slow tempo. And we know that we're going to have to play defense for 30 seconds of the clock every possession.

Q. Can you both talk about Kadeem's influence overall in the season. There was a stretch last night where things were going sideways and he came in and stabilized you guys. Talk about his influence.
ALLONZO TRIER: Kadeem is a great leader. Not only does he do it vocally, but leads by example. When the game got tight in the second half he went on a spurt of playing with a high energy level and competing at a very high level and he changed the game for us and allowed us to open the game up in the second half.

RAWLE ALKINS: I'd say the same things. He's one of our better defenders on the team, if not the best. And him being the only senior on the team, this is his last go-round. So he's going to give it his all.

Q. Everyone talks about how tough it is to defend Saint Mary's, but they're actually a pretty good defensive team themselves. What's your take on attacking them and what you're going to need to do?
ALLONZO TRIER: I think we're going to have to be very patient. They're a very good defensive team. They're very much like us, as in they play only all man. They're very sound. They do a great job rotating on defense, and they're well coached.

Q. How does this trip for you, Allonzo, this being your second trip, how does last year's experience help you guys -- or help you -- kind of guide the freshmen this year and make sure you guys make it farther than you did a year ago?
ALLONZO TRIER: You start to get a little more comfortable. This is your second go-around. Obviously us losing in the first round my experience in the NCAA tournament was very short. Very thankful to have a win yesterday. You just have to show the young guys the ropes, what it is like. But also being with the experience, there's only so much you can tell them. The actual experience is what teaches them everything.

RAWLE ALKINS: For me being a freshman, this is obviously my first time in March Madness. Last year I was watching it on TV at home. And to be playing in it is a great feeling. Not every team in college basketball is playing in March. And to be one of the few teams playing in March is a great opportunity.

COACH SEAN MILLER: Well, first off, we're obviously excited to still be in the tournament. I said it before, we played our first game, it's something you never want to take for granted being in this tournament. There's never been more change in our game from one season to the next. And just because it's happened in the past doesn't guarantee you that it's going to happen the following season.

We knew last night playing against North Dakota we were up against some really talented guards and a fast pace. And at times they were very difficult for us to defend. In some ways I think it was a great training ground for our next opponent because I don't know if there's a team in the field that does a better job of playing together, putting you in really difficult positions on defense and playing as a team, more than Saint Mary's. We respect them a great deal.

A few years ago we started to scrimmage them and instead of playing two exhibition games in McKale, we played one exhibition game and scrimmaged them three times. As a matter of fact, we were actually going to schedule them this year and we had to cancel because we had to add another home game. I don't know if it's good or bad that we canceled.

We have a familiarity with them. And I say that because not until you go against Saint Mary's do you truly understand how well they move the ball, how well they execute, and how together they are on both offense and defense. And I really believe this, that we are up against a great team, a team that's more than capable of winning several games in this tournament.

And that's what's great about the NCAA tournament. Every time that you go out to play you're playing against an excellent team. And in some cases some that are under the radar. And I really believe Saint Mary's is one of those. Randy Bennett is one of our game's great coaches. And he deserves a ton of credit.

Q. Now that you've had a chance to look at the game from last night, how much are the struggles on defense in the second half had something to do with the fact that you were rolling on offense?
COACH SEAN MILLER: There's some truth to that. We had one of our best offensive nights of the season. Obviously if you score a hundred points in the NCAA tournament something went right. I thought they really challenged us. They tried to take things away from our offense. They mixed in the zone. As you know, if you follow them, they have the ability to steal the ball and get their hands all over the court on your basketball. We played with single-digit turnovers, which again is a great sign for us. 24 for 28 from the foul line, another great sign.

But that's an excuse. Truth of the matter is that they were a difficult team for us to guard. They have a couple of guards that I think are as good as a lot of great back courts that we played against this season and they move the ball and they were tough for us to defend.

We could have been better at times but the one thing that I'm excited about is last night challenged us in such a big way defensively that it leads into our next game. It wasn't like it was easy for us to guard them or what they had on offense doesn't represent the future. If anything, I think it really represents what we're going to go up against tomorrow because as you guys know, Saint Mary's has terrific guard play. They move the ball. They set as many ball screens as any team that we'll face. Last night North Dakota was similar in that aspect.

Q. They played a little slower pace than you perhaps. You like to get out on transition. Talk about the challenge that will present to your team.
COACH SEAN MILLER: Well, yes, Saint Mary's is deliberate. They will certainly off of rebounds, they will push it. And they'll shoot the three-point shot in kind of a quiet way. They score more points in transition maybe than people talk about.

But you're right, we're going to be at our best when we can get defensive stops and have a chance to get out in transition, and we want to do that. But at the end of the day, they execute, they take care of the ball. It's going to be a great defensive challenge for us. There's going to be long possessions. And we're going to have to be really good at the end of the shot clock, in the last ten seconds. You could play very good defense for 15 or 20 seconds but all of a sudden one of your five defenders breaks down and Saint Mary's has a way of taking advantage of that.

And as you know, Landale inside is terrific. He is as good around the basket as any low post player that we've faced. But it still comes down to their execution. A lot of his scoring opportunities happen because of how well they execute and a lot of the ball screens that they use. They do a great job of putting him in position of catching the ball and score. To me it's about us being as good as we've been all season long, defending the other team.

Q. Lauri Markkanen, how did you go about or when did he first come on your radar and what impact has he been on your program?
COACH SEAN MILLER: Well, we started recruiting Lauri I guess in the spring there, which would have been the summer before his senior year in Finland. As you know, the world is a smaller place now than ever before. We recognized how well he was playing in the FIBA tournaments that he was in. And we followed up, Joe Pasternack, one of our assistant coaches, did a great job of identifying Lauri and pursuing him.

And thank goodness we were able to get him because I don't know if there's a freshman that's playing in the NCAA tournament that's had a bigger impact on his team than Lauri has had on our team. He's been consistent from the first game against Michigan State in Hawaii, all the way through last night against North Dakota. He's had a great freshman year, and as good of a basketball player is, he's an even better kid. Hard worker, great teammate. He's done nothing but help our program in addition to our team because of all of those qualities.

Q. I apologize if you've answered this question, you mentioned Lauri, but you have a senior, Kadeem Allen, I just got out of the locker room with him. What do you think about this kid, not just as an athlete, but away from the court? What impact has he had on freshmen like Lauri and all the other freshmen, as well? What kind of mark has he left on this program and I guess what do you enjoy most about getting to coach a kid like Kadeem?
COACH SEAN MILLER: Well, Kadeem is one of my favorite players I've ever been around, as a teammate, when I played, assistant coach, head coach. He has overcome tremendous odds. He's what college sports is all about. He's taken advantage of the path that has been given to him. He went to a junior college, Hutchinson Junior College, and they did a great job with him. He left there, made the decision to come to Arizona. He was the National Junior College Player of the Year.

And I asked him to red shirt, and he did it. And first year away from home, a long way from home in his case, everything was difficult, the practice structure, the academic structure, not playing with us in the games, but having to practice. Maybe lifting weights for the first time ever. And to think about where he was and where he is today, he's two classes from graduating.

He's the only senior on our team. He's our team's heart and soul. Everybody on our team respects him a great deal because he only cares about winning. He really does. I've never, ever had a conversation nor has anybody about how many shots he gets or points. And he's in this for the right reasons.

Again, when you have success like we've had for an entire year, there's a lot of things that have gone right. And I think him being a leader. If you would have told our team a few years ago that Kadeem Allen would be the great leader he is today, they would have all bet me. Because he was just trying to make it when he first got to Arizona. You think of a guy like a T. J. McConnell, who became a great leader for us a couple years ago, Kadeem is his equal. He does it in a different way, but he does it by example.

I can't say enough good things about him. That's why we want to keep going because somebody like him you want this season to grow.

Q. Earlier in the season Dusan Ristic was playing very well, especially against bigger opponents, like Tyler Davis from Texas A&M, later on in the season he gets Conor Clifford, had some problems. How important is he going to be to your success?
COACH SEAN MILLER: Dusan is going to be important. But where we are at in the season now everybody is. Dusan didn't play, in my opinion, up to his ability level the first half of last night's game. We felt that as a team. He was great in the second half. He scored 12 points in the second half. Utilized his size. On offense there aren't many players more skilled than Dusan. He's proven that from start to finish this season. Defensively in rebounding, we're always challenging him. And he's made great improvement. But tomorrow our entire front line will be challenged because I think they have just a great, great player.

Q. Can you talk about how your team at this point right now is handling the expectation going against 7th seed, you come out of that round, and where things are mentally, who's showing leadership. And with Trier coming out of last night maybe didn't have as many points, just where the head is right now?
COACH SEAN MILLER: He never has as many points as he would have liked. He always wants a couple more. I mean that in a good way (laughter).

But the thing about playing at Arizona is we're in a high-expectation environment. There's really not a game we walk out there where people don't expect us to win. And when you get into March I think that really helps us because we've played in really any big stage that you can think of, we've kind of already been there. And I'll go to the PAC 12 tournament where playing those three games in three days, 18,000 people at T-Mobile center. If you haven't been there, I think it has to be one of the great arenas in the world. And to play teams like UCLA and Oregon in back-to-back nights, it prepares you for this. And it's not going to be okay if we lose, but we already know that. It's not as if we're going to be surprised.

So the fear of losing, we can't operate like that. We have to be the best that we can be, knowing that the bigger the game it's going to bring out the best in our team and in our players. So that's really how we've prepared.

And, look, you could throw the seeds out at this point. You could make the case that Saint Mary's is more efficient than we are, if you look at their numbers this season. They've been remarkably consistent on both offense and defense. And they're going to be a tough team for any team in this tournament to beat, including us.

Q. Saint Mary's gets so much attention with their half court offense. Can you talk about the challenge that their defense presents?
COACH SEAN MILLER: That's one thing we learned having faced them the last several years in that scrimmage environment. We got a really good feel for how disciplined, how tough, how position-oriented their defense is. They're equally as good on defense, you're right. And they're the fastball pitcher. They do what they do. They're not going to change a lot. They're going to get better at it. And they believe in their system. They believe in their coach. They believe in each other. They're a team. They don't beat themselves. When you play Saint Mary's you're going to have to beat them by being the better team, whether that's turnovers or taking good shots, them, how they get back in transition, they do all of the things that a great team does.

And, again, Randy Bennett, he doesn't get nearly enough credit for the job that he does. And Saint Mary's is truly a good program. We know we're in for a heck of a game.

Q. I apologize if you've been asked a version of this, but could you expound on your relationship with Randy Bennett and how that happened? You guys talked in Vegas once. And once you agreed to scrimmage each other, did you figure this might happen where you face each other in a tournament?
COACH SEAN MILLER: I think we decided to scrimmage each other through much respect. For us being available in a quiet gym, to play a team that's as well coached and disciplined, that sets as many ball screens as they do, has the style they have, would really teach our team what we want to become and how hard college basketball is.

I can remember like it was yesterday taking Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Stanley Johnson, Aaron Gordon, all three of those guys scrimmaging Saint Mary's, that would have been two and a half or three weeks in our season, where they haven't played against a college team, I think all three of their cases, although they did okay, none of them really shined. And I think it's telling that experience, how important that is, and when you're playing against a team that has a great system that it takes some time to grow and develop.

But those scrimmages were great. We were supposed to scrimmage them this year, and I don't know if it's good or bad that we didn't, but it was up to us. We ended up being the one that canceled it.

It is ironic in some ways that we're playing. But I'm not surprised. We knew when we faced them and when you watch them on television that they're a team that's going to be in this tournament.

Q. If you could talk about a guy who won't be playing tomorrow in Ray Smith who has had his journey cut short, obviously. I don't remember meeting a more humble guy. Your thoughts on him.
COACH SEAN MILLER: There's a lot of story lines on our team this season. And Ray is with us here in the tournament, which is awesome. He's young in life, he's a sophomore in college. He's in his fourth semester. He's doing very well academically. He has a goal of graduating and I'm sure that he will graduate. But for basketball to be taken from him at such a young age, and I'm sure he would share this with you, it's not an easy thing. You don't flip a switch and say, I'm okay. And I think at times he really acts like he's okay. But he's searching, he's trying to find his niche and where he's going to end up. I think he's got a really bright future in broadcasting, because he's got a great smile and he's very articulate, his story really tells it all.

But, yeah, it's not an easy thing. Ray, for those of you who don't know, he suffered three ACL tears in a row. One in the last event in July before his senior year. And I think he was on track to be McDonald's All-American. He signed a national letter with us. Rehabbed, did not play his senior year of high school. And in the fall of early October of his freshman year he was doing very well and he tore his other ACL. Rehabbed last year. And worked hard. And then in our exhibition game he did it a third time, which -- the hard part I think for our team is some guys were really a part of the last two of those, like they saw it happen. And when you see something like that happen to your teammate it takes you back.

But it's one of the great stories of our season because we've hung in there. And I think in some ways worked to honor Ray by our performance and knowing that he can't be with us.

Q. I asked you a question about the walk-ons. Speaking to them they said each one of them had a process of just continuous communication, trying to email and get on to the team or get a chance to try out. What is your process with you and the staff in terms of trying to get these guys on the staff or on the team and what do you put them through in order to make sure they're the right fit for you?
COACH SEAN MILLER: I'm sure I'm like every college basketball coach at this point. Anybody that you add to your program is -- has to be a part of a solution. Has to be somebody that can really add value. And has to be able to fit not only who we are as a basketball team, but program, being responsible off the court academically. And those guys -- for example, what we're about ready to do, we have 90 minutes. We have one shot to represent Saint Mary's and prepare the best that we can. Other than that it's going to be walk through and film. Who represents Saint Mary's, those guys, they're what we call our scout teams. How intelligent they are, they have to love the game, they have to be selfless, and being able to put them in the game last night was great for them. They're a part of our team and we value what they do a tremendous amount.

Q. Last night you were at a hundred, first time an Arizona team has broke a hundred in the NCAA tournament since 2001 against Eastern Illinois. The guys seemed pretty loose and seemed like they're having a good time. How do you think that the more experienced guys have had to deal with that mentality and that you are playing your best basketball this part of the year, which I know is a big part of making it deep in the tournament.
COACH SEAN MILLER: You want your guys to enjoy being here. It's hard to get here. It's hard to stay here. There's a lot of pressure on the win, did you win? Did you lose? If you lose, everybody knows the season is over. Both teams want to continue on with the journey. I think the balance of being serious, businesslike, understanding that you have to be ready to go, but a day like today you can do both. And we really try to encourage and foster an environment where guys can enjoy being here and at the same time recognize the task at hand.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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