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March 6, 2013

Miller in point guard's corner

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In 2006, Hall of Fame Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim deviated from the safe press conference template when addressing thoughts that Orange star guard Gerry McNamara might be overrated.

I won't transcribe Boeheim's heated retort here. For those unfamiliar, Google the following: Jim Boeheim Gerry McNamara 10 games.

If Boeheim took a page from Spinal Tap's book and went to 11 that March 2006 day, Arizona head coach Sean Miller was at about a four when discussing guard Mark Lyons during Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches' teleconference.

That doesn't mean Miller was any less impassioned when defending his player, though.

"I don't know if we'd have 23 wins without Mark," Miller said. "As a matter of fact, I do know. We wouldn't."

Indeed, UA has 23 wins this season, and the senior Lyons has been at the forefront for many.

"He's given us a clutch performer. He's terrific at the end of games. The number of games he went to the foul line and won may be anywhere between five, eight, nine," Miller said, alluding to Lyons' late-game heroics in such victories against Florida, San Diego State and Colorado.

But attention now is paid more to the six losses the Wildcats have accrued - particularly the last two, suffered last week at USC and UCLA.

Lyons was never the prototypical point guard. He wasn't while plying his trade at Xavier. He wasn't in the Wildcats' wins any more than in the losses. It's a point that's been discussed ad nauseum among fans and in the media.

Miller himself knows it, and said as much.

"Mark is not your prototypical point guard. But we knew that when he came here," Miller said. "He's given our time a confidence level, extra firepower and added quality."

His parting shot for those who lament Lyons' style: "I don't give a [expletive deleted] what people think about that."

UA hasn't been dubbed "A Player's Program" under Miller's watch for nothing.

The point about Lyons is one that's been belabored throughout the season - mostly after losses - including from my own keyboard. When UA suffered the first of its losses to rival UCLA, I compared Lyons to the Bruins' prototypical, pass-first point guard, Larry Drew II.

Coincidentally, Miller touted Drew for Pac-12 Player of the Year on Tuesday's call. Drew outscored Lyons in the Bruins' win on Saturday night, 14-13, and did so in fewer shot attempts. More striking were Drew's nine assists to Lyons' one.

Those differences are in neon because of the loss and the fallout that ensued. UA plummeted from No. 11 to 18 in the Associated Press Top 25 - generous, considering the Wildcats are ahead of Oregon and UCLA teams they have yet to defeat.

"When you lose a couple, the spotlight always goes on the team, the coach and certain players," Miller said. "We've come off back-to-back losses - I understand that. But if we win the Pac-12 or we win one of those two games in L.A., you don't put the spotlight on that as much as you do the positives."

Of perhaps equal coincidence to Miller elevating Drew to Player of the Year status is that the UCLA guard has succeeded despite mounting criticisms from his own detractors upon his arrival from North Carolina.

Whether Gerry McNamara, Larry Drew II or Mark Lyons, premier players are doubted. Their failures are scrutinized with particular thoroughness. Like McNamara and his run through the 2006 Big East tournament, or Drew in leading a resurgent UCLA into March, Lyons has an opportunity to get off the mat.

And Sean Miller is firmly in his corner.

Kyle KensingKyle Kensing
GOAZCATS.com Staff Writer

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