The Arizona Wildcats have the tall task of replacing Deandre Ayton and Dusan Ristic this season, but early returns on their new, revamped frontcourt were positive.
Ira Lee scored a game-high 12 points, Chase Jeter grabbed 14 rebounds, and Ryan Luther added 10 points, draining two 3s, as Red outlasted Blue 39-33 in UA’s annual preseason scrimmage.
Lee, on the Red team, was 6-of-10 from the field, doing most of his damage at the rim, also mixing in a mid-range jumper, which he’s been working on all summer.
“I have a lot more confidence this year,” Lee said. “I know what to expect, I kinda know where to be now. I’m just more comfortable. More mobile, too. I lost a lot of weight. That helps.”
Jeter, playing for Blue, did exactly what Arizona needs him to do this season — defend and rebound.
The ex-Blue Devil had a block, a steal and even took a charge. He added nine points, too.
“That’s what he does everyday. He’s the gold jersey winner right now (in practice), so it wasn’t a surprise for us,” Lee said. “He’s our only 7-footer, but he plays hard, he’s a leader, that’s why he’s one of our captains.”
Freshman Devonaire Doutrive led the backcourt with nine points, including a pair of dunks in transition after forcing a turnover.
“The best is yet to come for Devonaire,” UA head coach Sean Miller said of the four-star recruit. “You can’t judge him at all on today. Some of things you saw are a sign of things to come in a positive light, but physically he’ll get bigger and stronger and more accustomed to playing at this level.”
Brandon Williams did a little bit of everything. He swatted a Justin Coleman layup attempt, threw an on-target assist to a cutting Jeter, drilled a 3, and euro-stepped a defender in transition.
Williams, splitting time between the 1 and 2, finished with six points and two assists on four shots.
“He’s your prototypical today’s guard in that he does both: score and make his teammates better,” Miller said.
“It’s very hard to judge him right because he’s only had 10 practices with us and right out of the gates we’re introducing him to two positions ... and if there’s anybody out there that should be somewhat confused or playing like a robot, he should be that guy.”
After a recruitment full of twists and turns, Williams said playing his first game in McKale Center was a “dream come true.”
“Just coming to the last two Red-Blue (games), I was committed at the time and just looking around like ‘wow, 14,000 people.’ So it was an honor and I’m happy to be a part of it,” he said.
Williams’ running mates, Brandon Randolph and Emmanuel Akot, chipped in with eight points. Randolph was 0-for-4 from 3 and Dylan Smith was 0-for-5, as the Wildcats struggled from the perimeter, going 5-for-23 from 3.
Arizona also had more turnovers (16) than assists (15), not surprising for a team that has only had a handful of practices.
“One thing you want to see is who’s nervous and who isn’t, who’s going to deviate from what we do in practice because of the crowd, but we didn’t really have that going on today,” Miller said. “But you want to get through a game like this without injuries, you want to see what we work on everyday show up and although we were far from perfect, it was a great experience for our players.”
Miller received a loud ovation when he was introduced before the game, waving his hand in the air as he jogged onto the court.
He then grabbed the microphone and thanked the sold-out crowd for its support — and threw in a cryptic message, alluding to all the shots taken at Arizona since its involvement in the federal investigation into college basketball.
“When certain things aren’t going as expected,” Miller told the fans, “it really is amazing how you learn who is in your corner and who isn’t.”
- Freshman forward Omar Thielemans was not at the game. He was out for personal reasons, according to the UA, and Miller said his absence is a “long-term” thing.
- Five-star recruits Nico Mannion, Josh Green and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl were in attendance, seated two rows up across from Arizona’s bench. Four-star forward Zeke Nnaji joined them.
- Randolph repeated as Arizona’s slam-dunk contest champion.
- Jerryd Bayless and Deandre Ayton were inducted into Arizona’s ring of honor at halftime. Ayton could not make it because of obligations with the Suns, but he delivered a brief speech on the video board. Miller said Bayless will be graduating from the UA in May.
- Coleman had three points and four rebounds. Alex Barcello had two points.