Arizona basketball freshmen quickly become veterans
The No. 12 Arizona men’s basketball team is made up of a careful blend of youth and experience, as a veteran backcourt plays alongside a talented trio of freshmen frontcourt players.
Or at least that used to be the case.
With the regular season winding down for the Wildcats and a rematch with Washington State (11-16, 2-12 Pac-12) at 1 p.m. in McKale Center on Saturday, the term “freshmen” is no longer accurate. The big men might still be young, but their experience at Arizona (22-4, 10-4) has made them into seasoned players.
“The freshmen aren’t freshmen anymore,” senior Solomon Hill said in Tuesday’s press conference. “They’ve played enough games to be considered almost one of the older guys.
“With a program like Arizona you have to grow up fast,” he added. “I really think they’re starting to understand that even with our early-on success, to sustain it and have further success in the tournament, [effort] has to be there.”
Hill compared forwards Grant Jerrett and Brandon Ashley and center Kaleb Tarczewski to the much smaller and slightly older sophomore Nick Johnson. All season, the Wildcats have considered Johnson a veteran on the team, despite the fact that the guard has just one season of college basketball under his belt.
Tarczewski said he thinks the freshmen have finally turned the corner to becoming veterans as well.
“We’ve played so many games so far. I think we’re all really kind of experienced more toward the sophomore year,” he said. “We’re just trying to go out and play our game, play team basketball and work as hard as we can. That’s all we can do.”
Tarczewski and Ashley’s recent performances seem to support that idea. While neither has broken out in the way some expected the five-star recruits to, they’ve both started to find their offensive touch.
Ashley has scored in double-digits in five of his last eight games; Tarczewski’s done it four times during that stretch. Even more importantly, though, the 7-foot center has played more efficiently, making 12 of his last 18 shots over a four-game span.
Things haven’t come as easily to Jerrett. He has averaged just 3.7 points per game in Pac-12 play on 32.1 percent shooting, and he hasn’t been a force rebounding, either, with 3.5 per game.
Jerrett hasn’t been the only one plagued by inconsistency, as each member of the trio has struggled on occasion. This doesn’t come as a surprise to Miller, either.
“Each of them has taken their turn of having a game that isn’t as good, which makes perfect sense,” Miller said Tuesday. “Inconsistency is all a part of a freshman’s season.”
But as Miller and Hill made clear, the big men shouldn’t consider themselves freshmen anymore.
“I talk to them about that all the time,” Miller said after the Washington game. “The amount of minutes they play, the practices they’ve been a part of and they’ve played against virtually every style you can in a season.
“As we head toward the end of February, they aren’t freshmen anymore. They know how to do things, and we’re counting on them.”
At this point in the season, Arizona has seen every Pac-12 team at least once. Saturday will be the frontcourt’s second go-around with forward Brock Motum and the Cougars. While low-post scoring won’t be at a premium for the Wildcats, shutting down and outrebounding Motum will be.
Added urgency for seniors
While Saturday’s game might be seem like a replay of just three weeks ago, when Arizona beat Washington State 79-65 in Pullman, Wash., there will be one small tweak: Senior Kevin Parrom has replaced Ashley in the starting lineup.
The move is about getting experience in the lineup and curbing some of the slow starts the Wildcats have had lately, not downgrading Ashley’s status.
Besides, if the freshmen are now sophomores, seniors like Parrom and Hill are starting to enter the twilight of their career.
“We have a lot to gain and a lot to lose,” Parrom said Tuesday. “It only makes sense to play all three of us. We can play the hardest and we have a lot to prove … We’re at that point of the season where it’s our last go-around.”
The dwindling college eligibility for the seniors had Hill questioning Arizona’s effort before the Washington game.
While the 70-52 win left him and the rest of the Wildcats feeling satisfied, Hill still stressed the importance of staying focused for Washington State.
But win or lose, his time is starting to run out. The clock is running, and it has all of the seniors playing with an added sense of desire.
Because of that, Hill likes having Parrom in the starting lineup and letting the now-“sophomores” continue to develop.
“We can’t come back; there’s no do-over for us,” Parrom said about the seniors. “The freshmen will have another chance to do this, so [Miller] puts the guys on the floor that want it the most.”