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Head coach Sean Miller continues to praise young roster as conference play approaches

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Nathanial Stenchever | The Daily Wildcat

Number 13 James Akinjo a junior on the University of Arizona’s men’s basketball team dribbles left as his teammate number 35 Christian Koloko sets a screen for him in McKale Center, Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. The Wildcats went on to win the game 96-53.

The Arizona Wildcats face off tomorrow against the California Baptist Lancers in their last non-conference game before going to Sana Cruz, California on Saturday, Dec. 19, to play the Stanford Cardinals in their Pac-12 opening game of the season. 

“Cal Baptist is more dependent and shoots at a higher percentage, they rank top 10 to 20 in the country they can really shoot it,” head coach Sean Miller said. “We obviously watched them play USC earlier in the season; they made 23 three-point shots and we respect them a great deal. We are hard at work right now to get ready for that game. I give our guys a lot of credit. They are a responsible group and a hungry group. They love the game and have been as good as a team that we have had at working at it every day.”

Freshman Kerr Kriisa has yet to make his debut for the Wildcats after being ruled ineligible by the NCAA to compete in games.

“I don’t have an update and I'm not involved in any of that,” Miller said. “He's a regular player in practice. It makes our practices much more competitive. We are still early on but if he has the chance to play we want him to be ready.”

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It is good news to hear that he is back on the floor with his teammates in practice, but the hopes of him being a big contributor to this year's team seem to be getting very slim. 

“He's learning how to practice better and the best is yet to come for [Azuolas Tubelis],” Miller said. “The hope is you can see him progress over the next month.” 

Azuolas Tubelis is one of two Tubelis brothers on this year's team and has played well so far, averaging seven points and four rebounds in 15 minutes per game. He has also been used in Miller’s “small ball" lineup, playing next to Jordan Brown and Ira Lee. 

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“They're great kids. They came here to be a part of college basketball and they came here to be a part of a great university,” Miller said. “Those guys have all practiced very hard and are great teammates. It's cool to watch their development. I think we are more prepared. It’s the combination of playing games, having success in games, learning in games of what we can do better coupled with practice."

Miller has raved all season about how his young players are developing as most of them are still young and have a ton left to learn. 

“[Brown] is not in the category of a freshman but doesn’t have a ton of game experience,” Miller said. “He is a very important player on our team and has an incredibly bright future.”

Brown has been inconsistent in his first few games as a Wildcat but has shown no shortage of upside during that time. He's averaging 11 points per game along with seven boards on 68% shooting from the field — impressive numbers for someone who had to sit out all of his second year due to the NCAA’s transfer rules.

Freshman Dalen Terry hasn't been the main-scorer so far at Arizona but his star potential continues to show up. Terry has only had one game in which he scored double-digits but has still found other ways to affect the game when his shot isn't falling. It has been either on defense stealing the ball, assisting his teammates and rebounding the ball at a high level. 

“All my life I've been playing confident,” Terry said. “I’ve always been a confident kid, and if you're not confident in my family — you're not in the family. I think I’ve played good, there's always room for improvement. I just wanna keep getting better every game and just keep showcasing what I can do.”

Offense isn’t the only thing Terry likes to focus on. He also takes his ability to play defense seriously too.

“Defense is something I take pride in. I feel like if I don't let my man score, that's a plus in my bag,” Terry said. “[The University of Arizona] was one of my dream schools when I was younger and this was the best fit for me.”

Terry told the media on Tuesday, Dec. 15, that he tore his meniscus this past summer, shortly after his senior season had concluded. He had surgery but didn't miss any time with Arizona this preseason. Part of his rehab process was aided by some words of encouragement from former Arizona Wildcat and now Phoenix Sun Deandre Ayton.

“Not a lot of people know I came off an injury in the summer, so I have been working every day with Jack Murphy and Jason Terry,” Terry said. “I can feel my shot getting better every day … when I committed, [Deandre Ayton] said, ‘keep your head up. Sean Miller’s great.’ I've been playing against [Ayton] since I was younger.”


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Updated October 15, 2021