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Alex Barcello’s defense has ‘surprised’ Sean Miller

Aside from Deandre Ayton, Barcello has been Arizona’s best freshman

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

The Arizona Wildcats’ defense has had its fair share of struggles through the first two games, but don’t blame Alex Barcello.

“Alex is a very, very good player,” head coach Sean Miller said of the freshman point guard. “He is tough, doesn’t take a play off. His defense has surprised me.”

UMBC guard Jairus Lyles scored 31 points against the Wildcats on Sunday in the UA’s 103-78 win, but only had eight in the second half, which Miller partly credits to Barcello.

“It’s a very hard adjustment to go from high school to college and right away be good, but if you look at tonight he might have done the best job on Lyles of any of our guards, and that’s really saying a lot,” Miller said.

A former four-star recruit, Barcello was the lowest-ranked of UA’s five freshmen but, aside from Deandre Ayton, he has made the biggest impact so far.

Barcello is averaging 8.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists, shooting 5-8 from the field, including 2-4 from 3 through two games. More impressively, he has zero turnovers.

The Corona del Sol product had eight points, five rebounds, and six assists in just 17 minutes Sunday against UMBC.

"Alex is sometimes overlooked because he’s from Phoenix. He’s the local kid,” Miller said. “But he’s a very good player and he has helped us as much early on because he’s been one of the constants. He hasn’t missed any time. As he works so hard, you can see him getting better.”

Barcello has played both guard spots, and his ability to shoot and play solid defense makes him an interesting fit alongside UA’s star players like Ayton and Allonzo Trier.

Opposing defenses might have to think twice about doubling Ayton in the post or overhelping on Trier’s drives if Barcello is camped out on the perimeter.

“If he’s open, I put my belief in his shot,” Miller said. “I don’t know if there are any players on our team you feel better about shooting an open 3 than Alex. That’s also a weapon when he’s out there with somebody like Allonzo. He fits in very well because he can really make you pay.”

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire