Jerrett a lone bright spot for Arizona basketball in LA sweep
Freshman forward finally finding his stroke
LOS ANGELES — After Mark Lyons’ floater clanked off the rim and UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad sank two free throws to ice the game at the Pauley Pavilion, a failed Los Angeles trip was officially secured for the No. 11 Arizona men’s basketball team. With the 74-69 loss becoming the second straight for the Wildcats, a defeat that knocks them officially out of the Pac-12 title race, much will be lost in the noise and frustration.
But, the late game performance by freshman Grant Jerrett shouldn’t be.
The sharpshooting forward drained a three-pointer with 1:39 left to cut the Bruins’ lead to four. He then one-upped himself, nailing another shot from beyond the arc the next time down the court, cutting it to a one possession game after a Muhammad layup pushed the UCLA lead to six.
While Jerrett scored the final six points for the Wildcats, it will fall by the wayside to Lyons’ final shot and, even more, the loss. Still, Jerrett leaves Los Angeles as one of the few bright spots in the darkest part of Arizona’s season.
“To see Grant Jerrett do what he did as a freshman, it gives me a lot of hope here down the home stretch,” head coach Sean Miller said.
Out of the three freshmen big men, Jerrett has been the most underwhelming. He averaged just 3.9 points per game in conference play entering the LA trip and has seen the fewest minutes. His shooting touch hasn’t been there at times, either, which was problematic since he was roaming mostly around the perimeter.
He finally reached double-digits against USC, ending a 13-game absence, and threw down two powerful dunks, a part of his game that’s been mysteriously lacking so far in Tucson.
Jerrett followed that with 14 points and five rebounds against UCLA, hitting a career-high four deep balls on way to his second-highest total this season. More importantly, though, he did it efficiently (4-of-5 from the field) and the final two makes were the biggest shots of his young career.
“You do what you can to help your teammates become better and help your team win,” he said. “My job I was open for threes and shoot it and that’s what I did.”
Shooting them is one thing, actually making them is another. He’s made 10 of his last 16 baskets in the last three games after previously shooting a below-average 38.7 percent on the season. With so many offensive options, Jerrett doesn’t need to be a consistent scorer for the team.
But, when he finally gets his open looks, it’s important that he makes them. Lately, he has.
“He’s one of our best shooters on our team,” guard Nick Johnson said. “He’s started slumping a little bit, but he’s been coming on as of late. Just finding him when he’s open and I have all the confidence he’ll knock it down.”
“He’s one of the best shooters on the team,” senior Kevin Parrom added. “He proved it (Saturday).”
After the UCLA game, Miller said the team really needs the bench guys to step up and make shots to help the team go to the next level. With senior Solomon Hill on the bench for a large chunk of the second half because of foul trouble, Jerrett stepped up with nine points in the half.
He was also the Wildcats’ highest scorer against the Bruins, something that would have seemed crazy a month and a half ago when he went scoreless in four of six games. His silky outside stroke seems to finally be catching on, and it couldn’t be at a better time with Arizona reeling.
“You kind of saw what our team can become when you have guys off the bench contribute,” Miller said.
“We had some quality play from some other players, and to me that’s what we had for a long period of time. And, if we get that back, that’s a real valuable thing.”
A freshmen big man off the bench should be worried with playing defense and rebounding first, scoring and making plays second. His blocking ability has always been there, as he leads the team with 26 blocks despite his reserve role. His rebounding (3.6 rpg) hasn’t been as consistent.
Even with the expected freshmen lumps and struggles, Jerrett’s first season as a Wildcat has been disappointing considering the praise he received before the year started.
If his recent hot streak turns into a norm, though, he might reach the level he was expected to be at. And, the timing could be better.