Arizona shows off many looks in exhibition win
TUCSON, Ariz. — What a difference a few days make for Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller and his No. 2 Wildcats.
He was more content and happy after Sunday’s 67-51 exhibition win over Division II Cal Poly Pomona in McKale Center than he was in Thursday’s press conference. He spent that time talking frankly about his concerns and sending a public message to his team that it had to improve in short order, be unselfish, be more vocal.
While the first month of practice was not up to Miller’s expectations, Sunday showed progress.
He started the veterans from last season, with talented freshman wing Stanley Johnson serving as the sixth man. Johnson (6-foot-7, 245 pounds) arrived with such a reputation that having him come off the bench would have seemed out of the question just a couple of months ago, but it’s a role that Johnson might — or might not — have to get used to.
Will he be happy if he doesn’t start?
"It doesn’t matter if he’s happy," Miller said, matter of factly. "It really only matters if I’m happy."
Miller, however, quickly added that the starting lineup could be ever-changing among his top six players. Senior T.J McConnell, junior Gabe York, sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, junior Brandon Ashley and junior Kaleb Tarczewski were the starters. All but McConnell scored in double figures, with Tarczewski and York finishing with 12 points. Johnson, too, added 12 points.
"Does Stanley have an opportunity to start? No question," Miller said, adding he might settle on that group of six and mix the starters up.
"If you evaluate our top six guys, they are further along than seven through 10," Miller said. "By the way, seven, eight, nine, 10 are important. If we continue to develop them, we will do nothing but become a better team."
Arizona showed that potential Sunday night — but not in the first 15 minutes, when it hit just 25 percent of its shots. Down 19-12, UA outscored Cal Poly Pomona 14-0 to end the half. Arizona outscored the Broncos 41-32 in the second half.
Miller said his team was "anxious" in the first half.
"You didn’t sense we came out with a team full of confidence," Miller said. "That’s kind of our personality. It’s not a bad thing, but more of a thing of (needing) to get more repetitions and play together more. That will serve us well."
Cal Poly stymied Arizona early with its matchup zone. UA expected to face it, which is one reason why Miller wanted to schedule the exhibition against the Broncos. He knows his team will see plenty more of that defense this season.
Eventually, the Wildcats broke through the zone, hitting 21 of 32 shots in the final 25 minutes.
Arizona is so deep (once it finds what it’s looking for) that it has the luxury of deciding whether junior college transfer guard Kadeem Allen will sit out as a redshirt this season. Allen — the junior college player of the year last season — didn’t play Sunday night and is on board with sitting out 2014-15, Miller said, if that’s what the coaches decide is best.
As for what’s ahead for Arizona, which opens the regular season Friday against Mount St. Mary’s, it’s a team that can go small or big at any moment or for long stretches.
"I’d say we’re a pretty versatile team," McConnell said.
The variety seems endless with so much to like at every position.
"That top six is fluid and what we’re searching for is the roles of everybody else and how to do it," Miller said. "Once you get into these games and things don’t go well, the game can change quickly in the other team’s favor."
Miller will evaluate all those combinations early in the season and see what happens.
"You gotta get used to playing with everybody," said McConnell, who had 11 of the team’s 23 assists. "Teams change in practice so we have to get used to that."
It doesn’t make a difference if Johnson starts or comes off the bench, McConnell said. Johnson adds value no matter where and when he’s playing.
"I don’t think there is a guy like Stanley in the country," McConnell said. "He’s a physical freak. When we have him coming off the bench, it’s pretty exciting to see. We’re looking forward to that."
He might as well have been talking about the whole team, the whole season. It officially begins Friday, and it should be pretty exciting to see.