For the next eight weeks or so, the Arizona Wildcats will have to make do without their only pure-point guard in Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who is sidelined with a high-ankle sprain.
Jackson-Cartwright was leading the team in assists, and had a stellar assist-to-turnover ratio (3.7).
Tasked with filling his void are Kadeem Allen and Kobi Simmons, with Allen doing most of the distributing.
The Wildcats are 1-1 since losing Jackson-Cartwright, with a loss to No. 8 Gonzaga and a win versus UC Irvine.
In that two-game span, Allen — who has moved from the two-guard position to the point — is averaging 11 points and 4.5 assists per game, while shooting 9-13 from the field.
On the surface, that is solid production, but Sean Miller has his eye on another stat.
“He’s turning the ball over more and some of it is fatigue,” Miller said of Allen, who is playing 33.5 minutes per game in the last two contests. “He guards the other team’s best player, he uses a ton of energy there, we want him to make plays, he’s running the team. Some of his decision-making is more of a factor of fatigue and trying sometimes to make plays for his team, but I think he had five turnovers against Gonzaga, three tonight (against UC Irvine). That’s eight in two games.”
And eight turnovers in two games is not to Miller’s liking.
“We don’t want him to turn the ball over three times,” Miller said after the UC Irvine game. “He can play a game with less than that, for sure. But to his credit now, there’s nobody who’s going harder, working harder, or doing more for his team than Kadeem is for us right now.”
Simmons is ‘pressing’
Before Jackson-Cartwright’s injury, Simmons was almost exclusively playing the 2 and coming off the bench.
Now, he is in the starting five and Allen’s backup at point guard.
It is a new role for Simmons and he’s had two of his worst games as a Wildcat since Jackson-Cartwright’s injury. Against Gonzaga, Simmons had two points in 29 minutes, shooting 1-9 from the field with two turnovers and one assist.
A game later, Simmons was better — posting nine points (2-8 shooting), five assists, and three rebounds — but is still not at his best, and Miller thinks the freshman guard is pressing.
“He did some good things tonight,” Miller said after the win versus UC Irvine. “As a young player, sometimes when the 3-point shot is not going in, you become hard on yourself, and he has had back-to-back games where that has happened. You start to think about that, you start to press, and then maybe you let some other things slip that you can do well.”
Simmons is 1-7 from 3 in the last two games, and 9-28 (32.1 percent) on the season. Miller believes Simmons would benefit from a simplified approach.
“I think Kobi right now, he’s pressing, worrying about making 3s, and he has to just play free, go out there, one, two step and knock ‘em in because he’s a very good shooter,” Miller said.
Simmons got off to a lightning quick start to begin the season but has become inconsistent since.
One area where Simmons has regressed significantly is his ability to get to the free throw line. Simmons took 21 free throws in Arizona’s first two games alone, but has only taken nine in the last seven games.
Those types of ups and downs are just part of the rollercoaster that comes with being a freshman in college basketball, though.
Even still, Simmons is averaging 11.3 points per game with respectable efficiency.
“For every Carmelo Anthony there are plenty of examples of guys who have great careers, even NBA careers, that if you judge them only on the first two months of their college career you never could’ve predicted what’s to come,” Miller said.
“But [Simmons will] get it. He’s a freshman and games for freshmen aren’t nearly as easy.”
You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire for more Arizona basketball coverage.