LAS VEGAS – Unceremoniously, the Arizona men’s basketball season came to a merciful end Wednesday afternoon in a 78-65 loss against USC. Tied at 40-40 entering the second half, the Wildcats missed 21 of 31 shots the rest of the way and were easily disposed of by the Trojans.
Arizona finishes the season with a 17-15 record, tied for the most losses in the Sean Miller era (2009-10).
The night is darkest just before the dawn, and this should be the bleakest day the Wildcats have to witness for the foreseeable future — that is, if things go according to plan and Arizona retains its No. 1 recruiting class and head coach Sean Miller pending the upcoming federal basketball corruption trial in April.
In the meantime, current Arizona players were mostly tight-lipped on their future plans after the loss to USC.
Jeter seemed to imply he will be back for next season in an Arizona uniform, though he wouldn’t give thorough confirmation. Jeter, listed as a junior, has already completed enough school credits at Arizona and graduated in December. Options on the table for Jeter include turning pro, going the graduate-transfer route or finishing his final year of eligibility at Arizona.
“Right now, I’m in a grad school program [at Arizona] that I intend to finish, so I won’t discuss anything like that. I don’t know what my options are at this point,” Jeter said. “As of right now, just focusing on finishing the school year."
Jeter was also notably upbeat for the future, saying “better days are ahead for us.”
The freshman guard had 13 points against USC, as he returned to the starting lineup for the first time since Jan. 26 after missing six games with knee pain and then working his way back into playing full time.
Williams figures to be a key member of the rotation next fall, although he could potentially test the NBA waters in the draft or G League. But Williams said that’s not on his mind yet.
“Just get back in the gym now, that’s it,” Williams said.
If Williams returns, he would be paired in the back court with the top-rated point guard in the 2019 class, Nico Mannion from Pinnacle High School in Phoenix. The Los Angeles native seemed excited at the prospect of forming a dynamic duo with the incoming signee, especially after learning from senior Justin Coleman this year.
“I’m gonna have to kind of be in Justin Coleman’s spot and teach Nico the ropes and teach him what I went through as a freshman … just being mature,” Williams said.
Mannion voiced his support for the idea on social media.
The sophomore guard was pegged as a potential second-round draft pick after scoring 15-plus points in 12 of Arizona’s first 16 games. Since early January, Randolph’s production dropped off significantly and he only scored over 15 points just twice the rest of the way and single digits in eight games. He scored two points versus USC on Wednesday.
If he returns, Randolph’s role would be up in the air with five-star signee Josh Green in line to have considerable minutes as a shooting guard or small forward.
“I’m not really worried about that right now. I’m worried about continuing to develop,” Randolph said of his future. “Just kind of lost right now, honestly, I’m just kind of worried about keeping my brother’s head high, worried about my family. And continuing to get better.”
UA players on Sean Miller
It’s no secret that off-court drama has surrounded Arizona – particularly Miller – for a second consecutive season. The often tight-lipped Miller declined numerous times throughout the year to talk about his future at Arizona, but his players have.
“Coach Miller, his staff have been everything,” Ryan Luther said. “He’s a hell of a coach, great guy. Everyone on our team has so much respect for him and everything he’s done for us.”
Ira Lee had a similar response.
“That’s my guy,” Lee said about Miller. “He gave me a second chance, and I work hard for him. He’s always going to be hard on me, but that’s his job. He’s one of the best coaches in the country.”
The next few months should provide some answers as to what the future holds for the Wildcat players and coaching staff, but until then, the only thing that can be done is wait.
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