It seems as if this young Arizona basketball team has hit somewhat of a reality check these past couple of games after a strong 9-1 start to the year — and head coach Sean Miller put the recent struggles on the defense.
“I mean really in both games, and I would even go back to the Washington State game, we’ve had a hard time guarding the dribble,” Miller said. “Different types of players taking our players off the dribble and in college basketball, especially the way the game is now when the ball is driven straight down the baseline, the next thing that happens is either fouls or it forces help and as you guys know, when one of your teammates has to help you because you got beat, that opens up the floodgates for other things.”
Miller wasn’t shy of criticizing the defense of this team, particularly the constant fouling and even noted that last year’s team had more issues with fouling, but it was “camouflaged” at times.
“We’re fouling way too much right now,” Miller said. “We fouled more last year, but it was camouflaged because we did so many other good things. If you look at our statistics last year, we emerged as one of the Pac-12’s best defensive teams but it still wasn’t because of our fouling.”
This comes off the heels of the Wildcats allowing USC to shoot 21-28 from the field in the second half last Thursday before they allowed UCLA to shoot 15-25 from the field in the first half last Saturday.
The team will be moving forward without junior guard Jemarl Baker Jr. after he broke his wrist in Saturday’s loss against UCLA.
“[Baker Jr.] broke his wrist really two minutes into the game,” Miller said. “So, in essence, you can’t really judge him on how he played against UCLA. We weren’t really sure that he broke his wrist. He wasn’t either but clearly if you have a broken wrist, it is hard to be a basketball player.”
Baker was the second leading scorer for the Wildcats, averaging 12 points per game and was also second on the team in minutes played (29.4).
“I’m wishing [Baker Jr.] a good recovery,” sophomore Christian Koloko said. “That’s the last person you want something like that to happen to because Jemarl (Baker) is someone who follows all the rules. He is always following the rules, doing everything the right way and always working hard. This is not the first time he’s gone through something like that, so I believe he is going to come back stronger.”
Terrell Brown Jr. is expected to take Baker’s place in the starting lineup, but that isn’t the only change expected to be made in the lineup as Miller also announced that Bennedict Mathurin and Christian Koloko are expected to join the starting rotation in place of Jordan Brown and Dalen Terry.
“Now we take the next step forward,” Miller said. “I think the lineup we’ll show up with is James Akinjo and Terrell Brown in the backcourt, obviously we believe a lot in Terrell (Brown) and he is capable of playing more minutes. With that, I think inserting Ben Mathurin in at the wing, just because I think Ben (Mathurin) is giving us more scoring punch with inserting Terrell (Brown Jr.) in for Jemarl (Baker Jr.). Inside Azuolas (Tubelis) obviously at the four and to combat with Christian Koloko at the five. Not because Jordan Brown has done anything wrong as much as he has been in some foul trouble, and sometimes what helps a player like Jordan (Brown) is to allow those first couple minutes of the game to get going where he can visualize it, see it from the bench and then he can bring more of a scoring punch off the bench vs. what Christian (Koloko) can maybe do is give us some better defense and shot blocking at the beginning of the game."
Miller is doing his best to combat the loss of Baker by mixing up the starting lineup with a change in scoring and defense as Mathurin brings the scoring and Koloko brings the defensive intensity.
“I can’t say it any other way than that I just feel bad for Jemarl (Baker),” Miller said. “It is very similar to how I felt about Brandon Williams, you know when Brandon went down, we lost a terrific player and you know with Jemarl (Baker), I feel the same way about this season and really for Jemarl himself.”
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