Pitts fits in as emergency replacement for Wildcats

Freshman Elliott Pitts played 26 minutes as a key reserve in Arizona's sweep of Oregon and Oregon State last week.

Casey Sapio/Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

TUCSON, Ariz. — When Elliott Pitts was the first to commit in the 2013 Arizona men’s basketball recruiting class, he said he did so because it was a perfect fit for him.

Months later, it’s Pitts who is the right fit for the Wildcats. Now it’s his turn to make the most of an opportunity.

Nearly 18 months after committing to the program as a high school junior, it looks like he’ll be more than a bit player for the 23-1 Wildcats for the rest of the season. Before sophomore forward Brandon Ashley suffered a season-ending foot injury, Pitts played just 41 minutes through 22 games. In Arizona’s last two, he’s played 26 minutes. More will be in store when the No. 2 Wildcats return to the floor on Friday at Arizona State.

"I’ve been feeling a lot more comfortable," said Pitts, a 6-foot-5, 180-pound guard/forward who is best known for being a perimeter shooter. "Just getting on the court and staying on the court longer is easier to get in a groove."

Bit parts in not-so-crucial moments don’t do so well when it comes to confidence. But playing time is playing time. He’s now played in 10 games overall.

"It’s definitely hard to get comfortable (with) just two or three minutes," he said. "Obviously, I just go out there and try to play as hard as I can. And do the little things."

Surprisingly, it’s not his offense that will find him with more minutes. It’s defense and "doing the little things," he said.

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He did that last weekend, getting praise from Arizona coach Sean Miller: "He’s really battled defensively. It’s the thing I love about him being a young player, he’s ahead of the curve. Seeing how much he contributed on defense as he did is a good sign for us and him moving forward."

While his defense might keep him on the court,  it’s his offense that will help keep teams honest on the perimeter. And recent weeks have demonstrated how much Arizona needs good shooters on the perimeter.

"I kept telling him before the game (vs. Oregon), ‘don’t come in and play scared,’ " teammate Nick Johnson said. "Shoot the ball, because you are one of our best shooters."

Miller said what he likes the versatility Pitts supplies.

"With Elliott, one of the things I love about inserting him into the game is he gives us another player who can shoot," Miller said. "Even when he misses, you have the feeling he can make shots. We’ve watched him evolve. Having Gabe (York) and Elliott out there at the same time gives us a look that at times will help us."

Pitts wasn’t sure if that would happen, but his family encouraged him and convinced him to stay positive. Then Ashley got hurt two weeks ago ,and now there’s time available.

"Coach told me even before the Cal game (when Ashley got hurt) that I would be getting more minutes," Pitts said, "that we couldn’t just play with seven or eight guys. He was going to have to extend the bench."

So, Pitts stayed ready. He stayed longer after practice, getting in more work and staying on top of his conditioning.

It helped going against Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a stronger, more active player.

"I’ve gotten used to the speed and strength of games," Pitts said. "I’ve been guarding Rondae every day in practice, so that’s helped me a lot. It’s made it easier to guard other guys on other teams."

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