Brandon Randolph made an early case to be the Arizona Wildcats’ new go-to scorer.
The sophomore dropped a career-high 20 points and made all five 3s he attempted, as Arizona routed Western New Mexico 95-44 in its first of two exhibitions.
Sean Miller said Randolph’s performance was ironic since he has not been shooting all that well in practice.
“Some of that is just as a young player learning what’s a good shot, what isn’t and how to use our offense to create, to trust your teammates and be patient,” Miller said.
“One thing that his shots had in common tonight is that he took really quality open 3s and when you’re a really good shooter like him that’s when you shoot a high percentage, but I thought he was one of the real standouts of tonight’s game.”
Miller said at Pac-12 media day that the Wildcats will be at their best this season when they are sharing the ball and getting a bevy of players involved offensively, and that transpired Tuesday.
Brandon Williams (14), Ryan Luther (13), Ira Lee (10) and Emmanuel Akot (10) also scored in double figures and Arizona shot 58 percent as a team.
“I was pleased with our effort,” Miller said. “Our guys really tried to play together and at this time of year, great effort and the intent of playing unselfish are really at the top of our list right now.”
UA center Chase Jeter was out with an undisclosed injury, so Arizona was forced to play small, starting Lee and Luther in the frontcourt, then mixing in Akot and former walk-on Jake DesJardins off the bench.
Those small lineups heaved 26 3-pointers, making 11. That is a notable uptick from last season when Arizona took roughly 18 3s a game.
“We’re going to rely more on the 3-point shot this year,” Miller said. “Now that doesn’t mean that it’s either make or break. ... We have to be able to create drives and get second shots, get fouled, get the ball close to the basket. Obviously you put Chase out there, that’s something he does well, but we’re going to shoot and depend more on 3-point shooting than we have maybe since I’ve been here.”
Arizona recorded 21 assists on 37 made baskets, and tallied 12 fastbreak points, playing a little quicker than usual, another function of their personnel — and Western New Mexico’s frequent misses.
“We have four guys on the perimeter who can shoot, drive the ball, so it just makes it harder for teams to defend us,” Akot said.
Western New Mexico played like a team that won six games last year. The Mustangs shot 25 percent, misfiring so badly at times that the McKale Center crowd could only groan.
Williams provided a spark early, scoring seven points within the first three minutes, but did not record his next basket until there was 12:21 left in the second half.
Randolph scored 13 first-half points and the Wildcats led 48-15 at the break. They staggered early in the second half, scoring six points in the first seven minutes, but won the period 47-29.
Grad transfer Justin Coleman only mustered two points in his unofficial debut, but did tally five rebounds and six assists. Better yet: only one turnover in 22 minutes.
Akot and Dylan Smith were the first subs off the bench. Smith took over for Randolph at the 3 and scored seven points.
Devonaire Doutrive was the last scholarship player to check in, entering midway through the first half. He went coast-to-coast for a layup not too long after and finished with six points. Alex Barcello scored four points.
The Wildcats used 13 players, but Miller said they eventually plan to have a nine-man rotation.
“Maybe in a given situation a tenth guy could get on the court, but to play hard, to push the ball, to make up maybe for our lack of size and hold these guys accountable to rebounding and moving the ball, you get winded playing that way and I think it’s always been our philosophy to get people in and out of the game,” he said.
The Jeter-less Wildcats outrebounded WNMU, 50-30, but the Mustangs matched them on the offensive glass with seven boards.
Luther, who made two 3s, had eight rebounds. Smith had seven. Randolph and Akot each grabbed four. DesJardins chipped in with seven points and three rebounds in eight minutes.
Miller said Jeter’s injury is “short term” — he went through pregame warmups as usual — but his absence Tuesday was a “good thing.”
“Other players had to do more and play in different roles,” Miller explained. “That’s going to happen over the course of the season.
“He’s not only one of our best players and one of our most experienced players, but he really fills a need. Without him, we’re a much different team, but we have three guys who can play that position. Ryan Luther, who makes maybe a tough matchup for the opponent when he’s at the 5, and Ira can play there. And I thought Jake did a really good job of coming into the game as well.”