Following a week-long sweep of the northern California schools, the Arizona men’s basketball team is preparing for a matchup with the lone team to beat them in the Pac-12, Colorado. As you may or may not have heard, Buffaloes head coach Tad Boyle doesn’t appear to be a fan of Arizona, specifically their involvement in the FBI probe within college basketball along with USC. When asked if the win over Arizona on Jan. 6 meant more, Boyle’s response was not subtle.
“...Hell yes there’s extra satisfaction. I’ve got great respect for Sean, helluva coach. I’ve got great respect for (USC head coach) Andy Enfield. But to answer your question: Hell. Yes,” Boyle said.
Arizona head coach Sean Miller had no such enthusiasm when asked about it during Monday’s press conference with the media. Instead, Miller chose to point out that every game is important and that they look forward to playing the Buffaloes.
“You know my focus is just on coaching our team and that’s the thing that you learn, being able to take a group from one game to the next,” Miller said. “…We have to be a better team this time around, more ready for the game than we were last time and that’s my focus.”
On the other hand, Enfield mentioned Boyle’s comments following the Trojans win a week later over Colorado. In fact, he called a timeout with just seconds on the clock and USC in full control. Boyle wasn’t amused and said the Buffaloes wouldn’t forget that moment.
We’ve seen that movie before and may just see it again, It’s the storyline fans have grown to expect from Miller. Just last season, Miller retaliated with his own “organized” timeout as the Wildcats were beating UCLA in the Pac-12 Tournament, a move that was payback for the same action at McKale as the Bruins were on their way to victory two weeks prior.
Dusan Ristichas been on the other end of the criticism spectrum often. However, the seven footer from Serbia saved Arizona with clutch, timely baskets versus Stanford and is perhaps playing the best basketball of his career. With so much attention focused on the lack of bench production, one has to ask, is it really a factor if all five guys are pouring in double-digits on a routine basis?
Ristic appears to have taken a note out of the Deandre Ayton book of take no prisoners. His toughness has come through inside and manifested itself from what used to be turnovers to much needed points. A major coup for Arizona, especially when Ayton and Ristic play well together.
“Just playing against him (Ayton) in practice helps me a little bit more, I am just trying to be more physical,” Ristic said. “I don’t think I have shown my best yet, but I am just trying to be that type of player now.”
At the onset of the season, the two appeared to have difficulty figuring out how to play with each other. Faced with different types of zones, the duo seems to have figured out how to navigate the multiple defenses by use of elbow jumpers, fundamental footwork and a nice touch. Perhaps they have only scratched the surface, Arizona hopes so.
Smith’s subtle contribution
Dylan Smith is not afraid, at least it doesn’t appear so. This has resulted in a mixed bag of production early on in the season. But as the Wildcats passed the halfway mark of the college basketball year, so too did Smith. His production and effort against the bay area schools resulted in two wins, but each game was highlighted by different outputs, both that impacted the game.
Versus Cal, Smith was on fire from three, 4-for-4 to be exact as he replaced Rawle Alkins who was out with an injured foot for precautionary reasons. The perimeter-shooting Smith provided was essential to Arizona blowing out of a downtrodden Golden Bears squad.
Against Stanford, Smith was quiet, until the game reached its’ lowest point and the Wildcats were facing an 11-point deficit with just over nine minutes to go. During a stretch that saw Arizona battle back, Smith had a baseline jumper, corner three and a big offensive rebound which led to a no-look pass to Ristic for two.
“Recently, I would say the last three or four weeks more so than any other time, Dylan has shown some growth in those things we are really asking him to embrace as a member of our team,” Miller said. “We’re not just judging him on shooting or how many baskets he’s scored…Trying to really make sure he knows that on this team, in his role, those things that sometimes are chalked up to be little, are really big.”
Smith’s one nemesis has been a penchant for turning the ball over. However, as the season has progressed it appears he has moved past all others as the main guy off the bench for a team with limited production off the pine.
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