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March 16, 2013
LAS VEGAS -- One of the rules in journalism is to only use exclamation marks when absolutely necessary. Arizona head coach Sean Miller provided a handful of absolutely necessary moments in his postgame press conference Friday night after the fourth-seeded Wildcats' 66-64 semifinal loss to top-seeded UCLA in the Pac-12 Conference tournament at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
The tirade conjured up memories of Allen Iverson, Dennis Green, Mike Gundy and the other classic rants that have remained legendary and fresh in our memories thanks to YouTube. Before the night was over, "he touched the ball" was hashtagged all over Twitter.
The play in question was a Jordan Adams swipe at Wildcats guard Mark Lyons, who was whistled for double dribble with 4:37 remaining. Miller was upset, contending that Lyons lost control because of the contact Adams made with the ball.
Miller and UCLA head coach Ben Howland said both teams were warned before the game by the officials to remain inside the coaching box. With a spot in the tournament championship game at stake and UA clinging to a 56-54 lead, Miller just did not expect what was about to come.
Official Michael Irving assessed a technical foul on Miller, who said the only thing he told the referee was that Adams touched the ball.
"Got to stay in the coaching box, and you've got to be real, real careful now as the coach what you say. That's what I've learned," said Miller, who added that he was not given an explanation.
After starting the postgame media session calm and eloquently recapping the game in his opening remarks like he normally does, Miller then smiled. Barely a minute into the press conference, the next several words were calculated and his voice raised with each sentence.
"The reason I got a technical foul is because I said, 'He touched the ball. He touched the ball,'" Miller said. "Like in other words, Mark Lyons dribbled and by the way when you show the replay here on ESPN in a few seconds, he touched the ball. He touched the ball! He touched the ball! He touched the ball! That's a hard one now when you work August, September, October, November, December, January, February, and here we are."
Miller was just warming up.
Without breaking stride and in full blow-up mode, intense facial expression and all, Miller leaned over the table and pointed to his left at Solomon Hill. The senior had just played his final conference tournament game.
"My man over here, he's never coming back here again!" Miller shouted, smile still intact. "His coach gets a technical foul. Didn't cuss! Didn't challenge him! By the way, it's my first technical foul of the year. That's what this is about?!"
After a brief pause, Miller decided it was time to calmly remind everyone that another team did win the game.
"By the way, full credit given to UCLA. They did a great job," Miller said, calm and deadpanned.
The fourth-year Arizona head coach then became sincere, explaining his respect for Howland and his team's ability to overcome an 11-point deficit in the final 9:57.
But the conversation quickly turned back to the two gift points that proved to be the final margin of the game.
"Keep in mind now, I gave them two points," Miller said. "They didn't earn those two points, I gave them two points. The score was 66-64."
Miller, again, then continuously reminded the media that he gave UCLA two points - three more times, unprompted.
Before the losing team is allowed to meet with the media, the NCAA allows for a 10-minute "cooling off" period. That still was not enough for a perplexed Miller.
"It's just difficult, man, when you invest hundreds of hours, in Solomon's case, thousands of hours," Miller said. "And if I cuss and I'm out of control and I've been warned, shame on me. But when I say he touched the ball, he touched the ball! Because quite frankly, I thought two of them could have maybe gotten together and explained that, in fact, he did touch the ball. That's what I was hoping for. That technical right there is hard to swallow.
"When you lose by two and you gave them two and you're the coach, you have to take that burden, and I've got that with me."