Arizona’s Hill reaps benefits of hard work
TUCSON, Ariz. – Nobody’s perfect. But Solomon Hill was darn close Tuesday night at McKale Center.
There was one miss from the free-throw line on his next-to-last shot. And one lone turnover. Other than that, it was pretty much a flawless night of basketball for Arizona’s senior forward.
And although Arizona is still a work in progress with a long five months ahead, the Wildcats as a whole looked pretty good in its 98-60 win against Chico State in their final exhibition game before Sunday’s season-opener against Charleston Southern.
Hill’s missed free throw was his only wayward shot on a night when he made 2 of 2 from the floor and 13 of 14 from the line. As he pointed out, he was a little “Derrick Williams-like,” comparing his statistics to his former Arizona teammate, who made a habit of gathering a bushel of his points from the line.
“I hope he can continue with that,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said, with a smile.
Hill will never be mistaken for Williams, an All-American two years ago, but Hill will be almost as important to the team this season.
“I’m just letting it come to me and being more relaxed,” said Hill, who finished with 18 points and added two assists and a steal. “I’m slowly getting to a place where we want to be.
“We’re playing faster and getting guys involved.”
Hill was a major reason why. And he was not the same player he was in Arizona’s first exhibition game, when his 15 points and four assists were offset by four turnovers.
“I was forcing the issue in the beginning,” Hill said of the first scrimmage (a 108-67 win against Humboldt State). “I missed some wide open jump shots. But it was good for me to rebound. I refocused and got to work.”
Arizona’s three seniors were the work horses against Chico State. Senior guard Mark Lyons led the way with 20 points, and Kevin Parrom had 12 points, six rebounds and three assists.
But it was Hill who was the clear leader, showing his ability to get to the basket, get fouled and get to the line. Miller said the 6-foot-6 Hill is still getting used to having a couple of big teammates alongside him on the front line, but he’s taking advantage. Throughout his career, he has been forced into a position of playing against bigger opponents.
“Part of what he’s learning how to do is when to go and when not to,” Miller said. “He’s letting the game come to him, and if you watched him, he really let the game come to him. He made people better. The fact that he had 14 free throws was indicative that when he did attack, he did it at the right time. He looked like a really good player tonight.”
And one of the better free throw shooters in the building. Well, maybe not. When asked about Hill’s foul shooting, Miller quipped: “I’m a much better free-throw shooter.”
No argument there. Miller shot 88.5 percent from the line for his college career at Pitt. Solomon enters the season with a career percentage of 73.7.
But if the two exhibition games are any indication, Hill has improved at the line. He went 19 for 21 from the line.
“If I get fouled,” Hill said, “they are sending one of the best free-throw shooters to the line. By all means foul me.”
Hill’s work at the line mirrors the approach he has taken throughout his four years at Arizona.
“Solomon has grown in almost every facet,” Miller said. “He’s become a better defensive player. He’s in better condition. He’s a much better shooter.”
Miller quickly pointed out that Hill hit just four 3-pointers in his freshman year. Last season, he hit 37 for 39 percent. There’s plenty of potential for bigger and better numbers.
“There were times last year in December when teams dared him to shoot,” Miller said. “In January and February he shot a higher percentage. And like our other players, he’s worked very hard. He can really shoot the basketball right now. He’s just improved.”
Miller called Hill, a member of Miller’s first recruiting class, a “great story” because of how far he has come and “how he’s stayed with it.” Now is his time to prove it.
“Nobody deserves to have a great senior than him,” Miller said.
Nights like Tuesday might help him accomplish it.