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Arizona still looking for spark off the bench

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Part of Arizona’s inability to play with effort could be explained by its unproductive bench

California-Baker v Arizona Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

Maybe the most disappointing thing about the Arizona Wildcats this season is their lack of depth.

They have three great starters in Deandre Ayton, Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins, two decent starters in Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Dusan Ristic, and then a whole bunch of question marks after that.

It wasn’t supposed to be like that, but Arizona’s newcomers, which included the No. 3 recruiting class in the country, simply have not panned out (aside from Ayton, of course).

Arizona was supposed to be a team that could go nine or 10 deep, but it really only has five reliable players at this point (its leading bench scorer is Brandon Randolph who is only tallying 6.1 points per game).

Head coach Sean Miller is still holding out hope that will change as the Wildcats enter the final stretches of the season.

“We need our depth to continue to develop,” he said Monday at his weekly presser. “(There’s) no magic wand so much as just trying to solidify those guys and utilize them.”

One of Arizona’s biggest issues this season has been its effort — or lack thereof. The Wildcats have trouble playing hard for 40 minutes, and Miller thinks that could partially be a product of them being without a reliable spark off the bench.

“Part of a hard-playing team is accompanied by players who don’t start in the game coming in and energizing the group, changing the game,” he said. “We’ve had guys like that in the past.”

Indeed. In Miller’s glory years at Arizona, it had Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a future first-round pick, coming off the bench. A year after that it had the sharpshooting Gabe York as its sixth man.

Guys like Randolph, Ira Lee, and Dylan Smith have shown the ability to produce off the bench for this year’s team, but not consistently and certainly not the way Hollis-Jefferson and York did.

And others like Alex Barcello and Emmanuel Akot are hardly even in the rotation anymore.

So what is the solution? More time apparently, even though it’s already January.

“When you have such a young group that is coming off the bench, it does take some time (to develop),” Miller said, “but I think they are on the right track.”


About Akot...

Miller compared Akot to Hollis-Jefferson before the season, but the freshman has had a strange year to say the least.

Akot has been dealing with knee tendinitis which has limited him, and he has not played at all in four of Arizona’s last seven games. The other three he played sparingly.

The 6-foot-7 forward appeared to have a breakthrough Saturday when he hit a 3 in the first half against Colorado, but then he only played one minute in the second half, which seemed odd.

“Emmanuel is doing well. He just has to keep working,” Miller said Monday. “He’s got a great attitude. We love him. His future is really bright. We’re just trying to figure out what’s best for our team now.”

Akot was a five-star recruit coming out of high school, so his inability to make an impact — or even get playing time — is surprising.

So while Akot sat on the bench in the Huntsman Center last Thursday — his second DNP in a row at the time — maybe he was thinking about what life on the other sideline would have been like.

After all, the Canadian played high school ball in Utah and was recruited heavily by the Utes before ultimately signing with Arizona.

But when asked if Akot could be frustrated how his freshman year has transpired, Miller shook off the question.

“He’s doing a great job,” he said.


Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire