UA’s opener not a gem but a ‘get better’ win

TUCSON, Ariz. –
Maybe they all won’t be gems. Maybe they all won’t be runaway victories, although you’d think they might be with No. 12 Arizona having so much talent.

But Sunday night’s 82-73 win over visiting Charleston Southern was hardly either of those things. It was a struggle. But isn’t it just November?

It took Arizona’s veterans to get the Wildcats through the season opener.

“They made us better,” UA senior point guard Mark Lyons said of Charleston Southern. Lyons led UA with 17 points.

Seniors Solomon Hill, Lyons and Kevin Parrom also pulled the proverbial rope in helping Arizona pull out the victory.

“Especially in a season opener you rely on your veterans, and our veterans . . . the guys who have been through it before, they were more ready,” said UA coach Sean Miller.

It might be that way for the early part of the season. Arizona’s great mix of cunning veterans and enthusiastic freshmen may not jell until, well, later. It surely wasn’t Sunday night.

Outside of freshman Brandon Ashley, the fresh faces struggled. Ashley had 12 points and eight rebounds. Whether it was the bright lights of the season opener or first-game jitters, UA’s young guns were silent.

Miller said the young players will have their day. Sunday just wasn’t it.

But there’s no better teaching tool than not doing well.

“When you have some of the young front-court players that we do, experiences like tonight are valuable,” Miller said. “They will get better by leaps and bounds having gone through what they did. We’ll get better as well.”

Roles will be more defined, for one thing. In the final seven minutes, Miller went mostly with Parrom, Hill, Lyons, Nick Johnson and Ashley, with Angelo Chol as the key substitute. And Arizona was able to pull away.

Miller didn’t say exactly when he felt he’d have to rely on the seasoned veteran, but he knew it would happen.

“Just watching our (young) guys guard on defense and guarding perimeter players that were driving and us dealing with the complexities that can take place,” Miller said of him realizing what wouldn’t work.

Miller even did something he said he probably wouldn’t do — play Hill at the big forward spot. Hill, typically a small forward, finished with 14 points and five rebounds. He went 4 for 8 from the 3-point line.

“We played him at the four because that’s what we needed to do to win the game,” Miller said. “We’ve been preparing (for that). Solomon knows how to play the four in what you’d call special situations — that would be more late game and end of game. That’s the value of having someone like Solomon on your team. He can do so many things to help you win.”

Miller was candid in his evaluation: “We screwed a number of things up, which a lot of times you can do in November. And you hope you can learn the lesson after a win.”

Miller said there were at least two times UA was supposed to switch on a ball screen and didn’t. But at this time of year, it’s about talking and teaching. Learning and

“(It’s about) getting better at the things you need to,” Miller said. “We obviously have a lot of young talent that I know that we will get better by leaps and bounds through the month of November.”

Offensively, Miller said he was pleased. There were 25 assists and just eight turnovers.

Miller admitted there was an unusual flow to the game, in part because of the style. It also didn’t help that Arizona wasn’t fully ready for Charleston Southern’s 2-3 zone.

“It was tricky for a lot of front-court players,” Miller said, explaining the unique defense.

Arizona did, however, take an unusual amount of 3-pointers. Even Miller said it was a “tough” number to look at.

“We took a few ill-advised shots,” Miller said. “Usually you have more ill-advised shots in November than you do at any other time, learning what’s a good shot and what’s a bad one. Our offensive efficiency was plenty good enough.”

A big reason was Parrom’s key plays, a jumper to give Arizona a 74-66 lead with 3:25 left and a 3-pointer to give UA its biggest lead at 80-64. He added five assists with no turnovers.

“He got big rebounds, made some key plays passing the ball,” Miller said. “That’s when we broke the game open.”

Parrom helped Arizona get through that stretch “because he’s a physical player and a very good passer. Two or three plays that were key to winning, he made,’’ Miller said.

He added: “It’s good to see him playing well.”

In time, Arizona should be fine, too.

“As long as Sean Miller is the coach, they are going to be alright,” said Charleston Southern coach Barclay Radebaugh. “They are extremely well-coached.

“I like his recruiting and I like the chemistry on his team. They play together and very unselfishly. They have a confidence, and you can feel it when they walk onto the court.”