Adjusting proves easy for Arizona basketball
The curtain was drawn back on Sunday, and head coach Sean Miller’s Arizona Wildcats were displayed for the first time in a game that mattered.
Watchers might have expected more in an 82-73 win against Charleston Southern — a school many have never heard of. Arizona showed what it’s capable of against the Buccaneers, but also that there’s much work left to do.
First things first, lower those lofty expectations beset on Arizona before the first practice even took place.
Everyone’s well aware that this team has the size and offensive talent to win basketball games. What people weren’t as conscious of was Arizona’s versatility in its lineup, which will make a difference as the season progresses.
A year ago, Miller was reduced to playing only eight players after suspensions and injuries ravaged the Wildcats. Now, Arizona can go nine or 10 deep. But the team’s functionality is still a work in progress.
Although Arizona only turned the ball over eight times on offense, there were plenty of miscommunications concerning where the ball was supposed to go, which Miller called “disappointing” after the game.
He then acknowledged that the Wildcats did score 82 points, which they only topped five times last season — so the offense was not the problem.
“Where we struggled is on defense,” Miller said.
The Wildcats’ defense was strong inside, as CSU was unable to score a single point in the paint, but every time the Buccaneers drove inside, there seemed to be an open shooter along the three-point line. Charleston Southern only made 10 three-pointers of 28, but many of those misses were open looks that could have dropped.
If the defense is still a work in progress, so is the lineup and the play of the frontcourt players.
Miller’s starting lineup included senior guard Mark Lyons, sophomore guard Nick Johnson, Solomon Hill and freshmen Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski.
Jerrett and Tarczeweski played only 36 combined minutes for the game, and both players’ minutes decreased as Miller went to a smaller, more veteran-laden squad that included senior Kevin Parrom and junior guard Jordin Mayes, who scored 10 points in the first half and was a major factor in Arizona’s first half lead.
“In the first half and second half, as we went small, we hit our stride,” Miller said. “The guys who have been through it before, they were more ready.”
Miller knew that the veterans needed to be in at the end of the game because of the way they were defending CSU.
“Just watching young guys move on defense, guarding perimeter players that were driving,” Miller cited as the reason for giving more playing time to players like Parrom instead of Tarczewski and Jerrett.
Charleston Southern was a small team, its tallest player standing at 6-foot-9 and its point guard is listed at a generous 5-foot-8. The Wildcats were forced to adjust to the size difference and found a way to win.
While we don’t know much about the Wildcats just yet, we can already tell that they will be able to win in more ways than one, by constantly adjusting.
“They will get better by leaps and bounds going through what they went through [Sunday],” Miller said. “We’ll get better too as coaches, defining roles more.”
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the year of guard Nick Johnson. Johnson is a sophomore. The article has been updated to reflect this correction.