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Arizona men's basketball takeaways after one week of play

Amy Bailey | The Daily Wildcat Arizona guard Brandon Williams (2) dribbles with the ball during the first quarter of the Arizona-Houston Baptist game at McKale Stadium on Nov. 7, 2018 in Tucson, Az.

The Wildcats started the season 2-0 beating Houston Baptist (90-60) and Cal Poly (82-61). After the first week of the season in the books, beat writer Alec White discusses the top takeaways from the team's performance.

Wildcats will rely on 3-point shooting

Through the two exhibition and two regular season games, Arizona has attempted 96 3-pointers, or an average of 24 per game. For reference, Arizona shot 69 3s through the same time frame last year. 

The Wildcats have hit 37 of those 3s, which translates to a 38-percent shooting percentage. In the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons, Arizona hit 39 and 37 percent of its 3s, respectively. So the increase in attempts hasn’t diminished the team’s efficiency — at least not yet.

Wildcat Brandon Randolph (5) takes a free throw after being fouled in the first quarter of the Arizona-Houston Baptist game at McKale Stadium on Nov. 7, 2018 in Tucson, Az.

The uptick in 3-point shooting is part of Arizona’s strategy this year. Head coach Sean Miller has openly expressed his desire to play fast and play to his team’s strength, which is the athletic backcourt led by Brandon Williams and Brandon Randolph. 

The old adage in basketball is “live or die by the 3,” and it seems that Miller will test that saying this season.

The team enjoys playing together

A lot can change throughout the season, but it’s evident early on that this bunch like playing with each other.

“Those guys are my brothers, I would do anything for those guys,” guard Justin Coleman said prior to the season.

Even with considerably less talent than previous teams, Miller seems pleased about the direction of his team.

“We have a great group of guys,” Miller said after the Cal Poly game. “They’ve worked hard from day one. I think all of them are out to prove that our team is better than maybe the outside world thinks.”

Arizona's Brandon Randolph, 5, and Justin Coleman, 12, celebrate before the beginning of the Arizona-West New Mexico University game on Tuesday, Oct. 30 at the McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.

Rotation is still fluid

Arizona’s starting five of Coleman, Williams, Randolph, Ryan Luther and Chase Jeter has been consistent through the first two regular season games, but we should see a steady diet of three-four bench players having valuable playing time.

“I think we have some guys who don’t start the game this year that really contribute,” Miller said. “There isn’t a big, big difference between the starters, and I would say three players, maybe four — certainly three — off the bench.”

Miller mentioned players like Emmanuel Akot, Dylan Smith and Alex Barcello who will be looked to for contributions off the bench, not to mention Ira Lee, who could replace Ryan Luther in the starting lineup in the coming games. 

“Ira is physical; our most explosive big guy who can get second shots, and as Ira plays more and more games, he’s only going to get better,” Miller said of the sophomore forward.

Anybody, Anytime

A dominant night in, night out scorer has yet to surface, although Randolph would be the lead candidate to emerge. The sophomore scored a career-high 25 points against Houston Baptist to open the year and his off-season improvements have been the key to his increased efficiency. 

However, Randolph will have off nights as he did against Cal Poly, only hitting 3-8 shots. Front court starters Ryan Luther and Chase Jeter paced the offense instead, scoring 17 and 16 points, respectively. 

“Any night any guy can have their go,” Jeter said. “It’s not about taking turns, but the effort level needs to be there every night and different guys are going to have their time.”

As the Wildcats learn to play each other, having different players step up each game will only boost confidence knowing that if one teammate doesn’t have their best night, another teammate can pick up the slack.

Williams' big role

Perhaps no freshman on the team will be asked to do as much as Williams. The guard has played both point guard and shooting guard so far, and while his scoring numbers haven’t been as high as many would have hoped for, he leads the team in assists.

“For him to have 13 assists and no turnovers, I think that’s a really good sign for him and our team,” Miller said.

It will take time for Williams to adjust to his expanded role, but he will be a key cog in the team’s success moving forward.

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