No. 8 Arizona rolled through the opening part of its schedule
before facing a bit of adversity this week against Southern
Now the schedule is about to get tougher: A road game against
Clemson on Saturday and No. 6 Florida a week later at the McKale
This bump in competition couldn’t have come at a better time for
Wildcats coach Sean Miller.
With a team that relies on freshmen at key positions, Miller
likes the idea of building up their confidence before throwing them
into the ring against heavyweights.
“I think we’ll learn a lot about our team in the next two
games,” Miller said. “I don’t think it’s the defining moment of our
season, but I do think we’ll have a team that will be ready for
The Wildcats have been ready for whatever opponents throw at
them so far this season.
Living up to the hype of a team that has a talented group of
veterans and another stellar recruiting class by Miller, Arizona
(6-0) raced through the first five games of its schedule, scoring
85.2 points per game while winning by an average of 24.6.
The Wildcats faced their first test against Southern Miss on
Tuesday night at McKale Center.
Struggling against the Golden Eagles’ shifting zone, Arizona
sped up on offense and spent most of the night throwing passes that
were easily picked off or sailed out of bounds.
The Wildcats finished with 27 turnovers, doubling their season
average, but pulled out a 63-55 win behind their defense, which
prevented Southern Miss from making any of its eight 3-point
attempts while forcing 17 turnovers in the second half.
It was ugly, but it was a win that could be a lesson Arizona’s
young players can look back on when things get tough later in the
“This allows us to have a little more confidence if we’re in a
game situation like this in the future,” freshman center Kaleb
Tarczewski. “It just puts that under our belt.”
The game against Southern Miss also was an example of why the
Wildcats are so dangerous.
Miller’s latest recruiting class included three of the best
incoming big men in the country: Tarczewski, a 7-foot center, 6-10
forward Grant Jerrett and 6-8 forward Brandon Ashley.
They’ve played well at times early in the season and should get
better as the season progresses.
But the key to Arizona’s success lies in its veteran
When the Wildcats had a hard time shaking Charleston Southern in
their season opener, Miller stuck almost exclusively with his
veteran players down the stretch.
Same thing against Southern Miss.
With the ball flying all over the court and the game a little
too close for comfort, Miller turned to his older guys down the
stretch to pull Arizona through.
Guard Nick Johnson, a confident and heady sophomore, led the
defensive charge at the top of Arizona’s defense and finished with
23 points in 37 minutes.
Senior Kevin Parrom came off the bench in the first half, but
started the second and played 30 minutes. He scored 13 of his 14
points in the second half and used his passing ability to give the
Wildcats a much-needed release valve at the center of Southern
Senior Solomon Hill hit the biggest shot of the game, a
3-pointer in front of Arizona’s bench with just under 2 minutes
left, and again filled up the stat sheet.
The talented freshmen have a chance to be something special, but
Miller can always count on his veteran players, three of whom –
with junior point guard Jordin Mayes – reached the regional final
of the NCAA tournament two years ago.
“As you guys have asked about this year’s team, the gift isn’t
just our size or our youth and talent, it’s also that a lot of
different players have been through a lot,” Miller said.
And there’s plenty more for the Wildcats to go through, starting
on Saturday at Clemson.
The Tigers (5-2) are young but athletic and should be the
toughest defensive team Arizona has faced so far. Their opponents
average 53.7 points, and they held South Carolina to 34.6 percent
shooting in a 64-55 road victory Sunday.
While Clemson is slated to get starting forward Milton Jennings
back following a two-game suspension, the team must adjust without
starting guard T.J. Sapp, who announced this week that he will
“That situation was shocking to me, but we just have to move
on,” fellow sophomore K.J. McDaniels told Clemson’s official
website. “It’s a part of this business. For him to make that
decision, he’s his own man. So that can’t affect us, we have to
keep moving on.”
McDaniels is tied for the team lead with 11.9 points per game
after scoring 16 against the Gamecocks. He and his teammates are
excited to get another look at Arizona after the Tigers lost 63-47
in Tucson last season.
“It’s an opportunity to see where we’re at as a team,” freshman
Adonis Filer said.