Back on track? Wildcats find groove in 61-42 win over Montana

Sofia Moraga | The Daily Wildcat Arizona's Brandon Randolph (5) walks off after making a tough layup during the Arizona-Montana game on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018 at the McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.

Arizona men’s basketball was back in McKale Center on Wednesday night, facing an unfamiliar feeling during the non-conference season: playing after a home loss.

After seeing its 52-game non-conference home winning streak come to a close Saturday against Baylor, Arizona started a new one by defeating the Montana Grizzlies 61-42 in a game that saw a starting lineup change and a dominant effort in the post by the Wildcats.

          RELATED: Best photos from Arizona's win over Montana

Freshman guard Brandon Williams was replaced in the starting lineup by Dylan Smith. Williams banged knees in practice the day before the Baylor game with Justin Coleman, according to head coach Sean Miller, and has been dealing with lingering effects since. 

Arizona's Chase Jeter (4) goes up for a layup during the Arizona-Montana game on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018 at the McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.

“When you’re a freshman, have a big role, your team needs you to play well. And you have a situation where you’re injured, you can see where with his shooting he can lose confidence,” Miller said postgame. “I think he’ll be healthier against UC Davis than he was tonight. He’s not at any further risk.”

Williams shot 1-9 from the field against Baylor and 1-7 against Montana, suggesting he's not 100 percent at the moment. 

The player at 100 percent, however, was Chase Jeter who shot a career-high 21 points.

Arizona used a 16-3 run early in the first half, capped off by the strong play of Jeter, to take the lead in a low-scoring first half. Jeter had 11 points in the first half on 5-9 shooting, as Arizona made it a priority to get the big man involved in the game after taking just four shots against Baylor.

“He didn’t have a great night against Baylor,” Miller said. “A lot of that was us. We just weren’t really able to get him the ball. I think that if we can get him the ball consistently, good things will happen.”

Jeter said the loss on Saturday and the loss to Alabama didn’t affect the team's spirits too much.

“The main thing was just to keep positive and not let two losses define our season. Montana is a good team, and this was a big win for us tonight,” Jeter said. 

Brandon Randolph was the other double-figure scorer, with 15 points on just 5-9 shooting – 55 percent – after going a combined 13-36 – 36 percent – in UA's last two losses.

Arizona's Brandon Randolph (5) goes up for a basket during the Arizona-Montana game on Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018 at the McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.

After its poor performance rebounding the ball against Baylor, Arizona out-rebounded Montana by 10, while outscoring Montana in the paint 42-16. The ‘Cats held the Griz' to 27 percent shooting and just 22 percent from 3-point range.

Miller described it as a "maximum effort" defensive performance, and it helped move the Wildcats' adjusted defensive ranking to No. 22 in the country, per

Not all was positive for Arizona, however. The ‘Cats shot just 2-12 from 3-point land and turned the ball over 16 times, with just 10 assists. Offensively, the 'Cats also got out to another slow start, leading by just seven at halftime. 

With the non-conference schedule about to come to a close, Miller talked about how the game prepared his team for conference play. 

“Our non-conference schedule is filled with a lot of quality opponents,” Miller said. “No doubt, it is preparing us for what’s to come. It’s really allowing us to learn a lot about ourselves.”

Arizona concludes the non-conference schedule Saturday against UC Davis, with a scheduled tip-off at 5 p.m. on the Pac-12 Network. 

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