Freshman guard to become Arizona hoops' late-game option
Gordon Bates / Arizona Daily Wildcat
What a difference a month and a half can make.
On Dec. 7, 2011, Josiah Turner sat in Tucson as his team lost an overtime heartbreaker to then-No. 12 Florida in Gainesville, Fla. Turner had just been suspended for violations of team policy and his future with the program was murky.
Fast-forward 50 days and the UA’s five-star point guard is now the leading candidate to become Arizona’s go-to guy in crunch time, said UA head coach Sean Miller.
“It’s tough to give the ball to a freshman in that situation, but he can get fouled, he can beat his man and also he can make the pass,” Miller said of Turner at his Tuesday press conference. “Although he’s not as good of a 3-point shooter as a couple of the other guys, that may be our best bet moving forward.”
The Wildcats need a late-game scorer in the worst way, as evident by their 64-63 loss to Colorado. After rebounding a CU miss with 30 seconds remaining, Arizona settled for a 3-pointer from Kevin Parrom at the buzzer and once again missed Derrick Williams’ ability to throw on his Superman cape and save the day.
With the loss, Arizona moved to 0-3 this season in games decided by four points or less — last season the Wildcats went 5-3 in such games. Miller said on Tuesday that Arizona still hasn’t established a Mariano Rivera-like closer and “that’s one of the things that we don’t do well right now at the end of games.”
That could quickly change if Turner can deliver in crunch time. As of late, Turner’s looked the part. The freshman averaged 10 points and 2.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.6 steals in Arizona’s last three games. He shot 9-of-20 during that span.
“Now people are finally starting to see his potential and see him play better,” Arizona forward Kevin Parrom said. “I think he’s doing a great job at the point guard position. I personally love the way he passes the ball. He just spreads out the court and is a great point guard.”
Turner’s ability to penetrate and get to the line may just be the remedy the Wildcats are desperately searching for late in games.
The question becomes: Is a 19-year-old freshman with 18 collegiate games under his belt ready to take on such a task? The Sacramento, Calif., native thinks so.
“I’m just comfortable with the ball in my hands at the end of games. I feel like I can get to the line easy,” Turner said. “I never thought it would get to that point but if (Miller) wants to put the ball in my hands at the end of the game I’d be comfortable doing that.”
Senior Jesse Perry said after the Colorado game that it’s up to the older guys to demand the ball late in games. But according to Miller, he hasn’t seen his veterans step up to that challenge consistently.
Kyle Fogg, who Miller said will be the second option behind Turner in late-game situations, had a chance to create for himself against CU, but chose to kick the ball out to Parrom for the 3-pointer.
Fogg also missed a potential game-tying jumper in the lane at the buzzer against Oregon at home. He came up with huge plays down the stretch against Oregon State, but he, Perry and Hill have yet to prove themselves as closers.
Miller admitted that the Wildcats miss Momo Jones and Williams, whose late-game heroics carried them to the Elite Eight a season ago. He even pointed to two seasons ago when Jones and Nic Wise often helped Arizona steal wins it shouldn’t have.
“Both of them were really good in the clutch,” Miller said. “Look back at our first year, we were so lucky to be 16-15. We were probably more like a 13-win team but three or four times, buzzer beaters, free throws going in.”
But Miller said even without Jones, Williams and Wise, “that’s not to say we can’t all the sudden win a couple of these hard-fought games and turn it right around.”
Turner will get his chance to do exactly that. And after a rocky start to his college career, he says he’s poised to take on that role.
“I feel comfortable in any environment now,” Turner said. “I just feel a lot more comfortable playing college ball.”