Depth on display at Arizona’s Red-Blue Game
TUCSON, Ariz. — Where would the University of Arizona’s second five finish in the Pac-12 Conference race?
Who would they be? Who is going to make the playing rotation? That’s a burning question for the Wildcats, but it’s still way too early to tell. Coach Sean Miller has plenty of time, but his team’s plethora of talent was on display at the Red-Blue Game in front of 10,001 spectators at McKale Center on Saturday afternoon.
"We have a long way to go, (but) what college basketball team doesn’t have a long way to go?" said UA senior guard T.J. McConnell.
McConnell added that he liked what he saw. Um, who wouldn’t with all the talent?
McConnell, Kaleb Tarczewski, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Craig Victor and Elliott Pitts were on the winning Red team. Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Stanley Johnson, Brandon Ashley, Gabe York and Dusan Ristic were on the Blue.
What a roster.
Arizona has had just eight practices, and it was Arizona’s third day in McKale Center, as the finishing touches continue to be made on the $30 million renovation. New place; new team dynamics.
But it’s likely UA will be even more aggressive offensively and perhaps even more balanced than a season ago, when some with short memories were declaring the team the school’s all-time best.
"It can come from a variety of ways," Miller said of the team’s offensive potential. "I would be shocked if we didn’t have four or five players in double figures, maybe five. If we are clicking that’s how our offense should look."
Miller hinted recently that the playing rotation could go anywhere from six to nine players, but it appears he has more useful players than that. How the "dust settles" remains to be seen, Miller said.
"We have a number of guys competing for roles and opportunity," he said.
Miller said he wouldn’t be opposed to rotating his starting lineup. His No. 1 job is to get everyone to play together. It’s nice having elite players, but if they don’t play together, what’s the point? In fact, chemistry has been the buzzword in the first two press conferences of the season as Arizona prepares to be better than last season’s 33-5 record and go further than last season’s Elite Eight appearance.
"It’s really easy to be selfish," Miller said when asked how he describes chemistry.
"We have a number of players who are trying to accomplish individual things, and in an effort to do that each one of them has to sacrifice — minutes, shots, role, etc. — for the betterment of our team so we can win the most games."
Miller, as he addressed the crowd before the game’s tip-off — won by the Red 53-46 — said, "Our goal is to have a magical season."
He also knows magic just doesn’t happen.
Now, it’s about getting everybody to agree on roles and everything that goes with them. Miller calls it a work in progress, adding "it doesn’t mean we have any bad chemistry" while cautioning, "it may take some time."
Last year, Arizona had that chemistry. McConnell called it a "day by day" thing in the preseason.
"People don’t realize how hard it is to bring in six new guys and be able to mesh right away," McConnell said. "It’s pretty much impossible. A game like this pretty much helps, but with more practice and more games I think the chemistry will come along."
Freshman Stanley Johnson, perhaps Arizona’s most explosive player, looked good in his first test as a UA player, getting to the basket for 17 points on 7-for-13 shooting after winning the dunk contest before the game. McConnell called the wing a "matchup nightmare."
But Johnson still has plenty to learn.
"What we’re trying to teach him is all the intricacies of college defense and how to play with other good players and utilize our offense to create good opportunities," Miller said. "If you watch us 10 days from now or three weeks from now, I would hope you’d see him using our offense to be more efficient and be a better defender. And he’ll do that every day."
Seven-foot freshman Dusan Ristic played very well in the exhibition — better, in fact, than he has at practice, Miller said. The Serbian native had 14 points, going 7-for-8 from the floor. He showed nice touch and "European style," according to fellow center Kaleb Tarczewski.
"He’s got a great touch and tremendous hands," Miller said. "He has know-how of how to score. Free throw shooting, jump shots, hooks; he’s ahead of where you see normal freshman players."
Tarczewski said Rustin is good at "finishing and being crafty around the rim."
"Defensively is where he’s playing catch-up," Miller said. "The speed of the game, that’s his challenge, (but) he’s among our hardest workers."
Brandon Ashley was back on the court after suffering a season-ending foot injury at Cal on Feb. 1. He did finish with seven points and a 3-pointer, but he wasn’t as active as he was last year.
Miller said Ashley didn’t play as well as he has practiced but "it was just great for him to be out there and playing in front of the crowd."
Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon, who are now in NBA camps after declaring early for the pros, were placed in the Arizona Basketball Ring of Honor in a short ceremony at halftime.
"For Nick and Aaron to do it like they did says a lot of what they did," Miller said. "Aaron in one year and Nick over a three-year period. We’re proud of them."