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Arizona basketball: 3 things we learned in Wildcats’ win over UMBC

These Wildcats are fast and can score, but they are looking for balance

NCAA Basketball: MD Baltimore Cty at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 3 Arizona Wildcats finished their opening weekend Sunday night with a 103-78 win over the UMBC Retrievers in McKale Center.

The ‘Cats improve to 2-0 on the season headed into a short week with a home game against CSU Bakersfield on Thursday.

But before we get there, here are three things we learned from Arizona’s win over UMBC.

Faster pace is working

In these first two games, the Wildcats have played at a much quicker tempo than fans are accustomed to seeing.

Arizona once again surpassed the 100-point mark Sunday, becoming the first Wildcat team since 2002 to open their season with two straight 100-point outings.

The Wildcats shot 39-62 (61%) from the field and 15-28 (54%) from 3 against UMBC, and UA head coach Sean Miller claims he has never coached a team that has made that many field goals in a game.

He didn’t exactly think it was a fluke, either.

“I believe that we have a lot of talent on offense, and it can go both inside and outside,” Miller said. “It’s just a matter of us continuing to play unselfishly.”

Point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who had nine assists Sunday, said Arizona has so many weapons both on the wing and in the post that he just tries to get the ball out as quickly as he can.

Arizona had 25 fastbreak points Sunday.

“Coach wants us to play fast,” Jackson-Cartwright said, “not shoot fast and take bad shots, but get it up court fast and get a good shot.”

Playing time will be earned on defense

After adding Brandon Randolph, Dylan Smith, and Keanu Pinder back into the mix Sunday, Miller now has 11 scholarship players he can turn to.

Not all 11 can realistically play, though, so minutes will be hard to come by for some moving forward (especially when Rawle Alkins returns in December).

Arizona has shown it has a lot of offensive fire power with Allonzo Trier, Deandre Ayton, and Jackson-Cartwright, so the players who emerge in the rotation are those who can make a difference on the other side of the ball, Miller said.

“Not that everybody isn’t allowed to take a good shot,” he said, “but we need more balance, we need perimeter guys that can sign up to guard the other team’s best offensive player.”

Miller thought Alex Barcello, Pinder, and Ira Lee played well defensively.

“As we learn our roles, and as we do a better job maybe figuring out who can do what, our defense will settle in,” Miller said. “It has to improve.”

Ayton loves to run the floor

Deandre Ayton once again showed off a dazzling display of athleticism Sunday including two dunks — one being an alley-oop over a helpless defender and the other a tip-slam in transition — that left everyone in McKale, not just the fans, in awe.

“I was running down the court with my mouth open,” Jackson-Cartwright said. “I couldn’t really believe it. ... When he makes plays like that, it ignites our team on defense, the crowd gets more into it and everything just gets more fun.”

Ayton finished 19 points on 9-13 shooting along with 13 rebounds, posting his second double-double in as many games with the Wildcats.

An athletic 7-footer, Ayton is benefitting from Arizona’s quickened tempo. The freshman said he loves to run the floor on both offense and defense.

“Deandre does a great job of running and posting and sealing his man and getting the ball,” Jackson-Cartwright said. “We try to find him and get him the ball as much as we can.”

Ayton played a career-high 33 minutes Sunday. He said he’s used to playing that many minutes, but said the pace of the college game is different.

“You can’t take plays off, really,” he said.

Which Miller doesn’t think Ayton does anyway.

“He’s competitive and sometimes you can tell when something doesn’t go right. He’ll wear his emotions on his sleeve, but I would much rather tame a guy down and talk to him in those terms than wonder if he wants to compete,” Miller said.

“And with Deandre, you always know that he loves to play the game and he hates to lose. Watching his competitive spirit, it’s fun to see that with a guy that young and also that talented."