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Notebook: On Justin Coleman’s big night, Arizona’s ‘heart’, veteran leadership, Gonzaga and more

Notes from Arizona’s win over Iowa State in the Maui Invitational

NCAA Basketball: Iowa State at Arizona Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats came back to beat the Iowa State Cyclones 71-66 in the first round of the Maui Invitational on Monday.

Our full recap can be found here, and here some additional notes.

Coleman’s big night

Arizona doesn’t win this game without Justin Coleman’s second-half heroics. The fifth-year senior scored 15 of his 18 points in the final 20 minutes, and nine of those points in the last five minutes.

Coleman hit a scoop layup to tie the game at 56, a fallaway jumper to tie it again at 60 and then a deep 3 to put the Wildcats up by three with 1:49 left.

That all came after he had just three points on four shots in the first half.

“I just had to get a feel of their defense, what’s open, what’s not open, how to get my teammates shots, get Chase (Jeter) the ball, he’s one of the best big men in the country,” Coleman said. “And I was looking for my teammates and things just opened up for me as well so I just took. The shots that were open for me and they just happened to fall for me today.”

Arizona trusted Coleman to lead them down the stretch, giving him the green light to take some tough shots — the same kind of trust Coleman had in the program when he decided to transfer from Samford.

“I put a lot of work in my game and I trusted my teammates a lot, so when I started transferring I just took a leap of faith and Coach Miller was one of the first people to call me and he said he liked my game and trusted my talent,” Coleman said. “So I decided to take the offer and come to Arizona and it’s one of the best decisions I made.”

Veteran leadership

All three of UA’s veterans were key down the stretch. Fifth-year senior Ryan Luther had seven second-half points including some key offensive rebounds.

Fourth-year junior Chase Jeter finished with another double-double (10 points, 12 rebounds), anchoring an Arizona defense that held Iowa State to 37 percent shooting in the second half.

As a result, Arizona outscored Iowa State 44-30 in the second half, overcoming a rough first half. The Wildcats shot 52 percent in the second half and trimmed a once-lofty rebounding deficit to 40-34.

“I’m just proud of these guys,” Jeter said. “Coming into this we had some good games, 3-0, but we knew once we got to this field that the competition was going to rise. And I think like I said earlier, I think we came out a little bit lax and kind of intimidated a little bit by the atmosphere maybe. But once our guys, we took a deep breath and guys we got our feet under us, I think I’m just really proud of my teammates and how we performed out there. Especially the way we finished the game.”

Williams comes through in the clutch, despite off night

Arizona shot 29 percent from 3 and Brandon Williams was part of the problem, going just 1 for 7, missing two treys that could have given Arizona the lead late.

But he affected the game in other ways, namely with six assists and draining nine of 10 free throws, including four in the final moments that prevented Iowa State from having a chance to tie or take the lead.

It was Williams’ first test against a major-conference team, and he passed. (His absurd turnover-less streak did come to end, however.)

“We’re very new to each other and in an environment like this, a game like this can really bring you closer together. I think you learn what it takes. Each of these guys is in a brand new role,” Coach Sean Miller said. “Some things as simple as free throw shooting. Allonzo Trier, he’s one of the best free throw shooters late games that I’ve ever coached. You take it for granted in the three years that he was with us, late in the game and the ball got to him and he made them 90-plus percent of the time. Well even tonight who is going to be that player that you’re going to want to put on the foul line? And you saw Brandon Williams as a freshman go 9-10 from the line. So there’s always things that you learn in November, but you can’t learn them unless you really are challenged. If we would have lost tonight we would have learned a lot.

“The fact we won is great, but I think more than anything it’s just us having an opportunity to grow, keep getting better and if you can win while you’re doing that, then obviously that’s what we all want to do.”

Disappointing depth

On a not-so-positive note, we might have learned that Arizona’s depth isn’t as good as it looked in the first three games.

The Wildcats only got six points from their bench and the rotation noticeably tightened, with Alex Barcello and Emmanuel Akot only playing single-digit minutes.

Arizona has two games in the next two days, so the bench will have to contribute more or you could see the starting five burn out. It’s going to take a lot to beat Illinois or Gonzaga as it is, but with a fatigued starting five on top of that? Forget about it.

“We didn’t play our bench as much tonight because a couple of the guys, they didn’t seem to be as confident as they had been,” Miller said. “I’m hoping that now we have got one under our belt here that they can return to form. But part of what we like about our team this year is guys nine, ten, six, seven, and eight have really contributed. They have a role and we can play through long stretches because we’re going to sub. So I hope that helps us. That’s what we’re going to do tomorrow. But that’s college basketball. If you get into a Pac-12 tournament you’re going to have to win three games in three days. The NCAA tournament, sometimes you play an evening tip and then with the one day in between and noon tip. So I think all of us have gotten used to that and we’ll do the best we can.”

Will to win

In a lot of ways this was the antithesis of last year’s Battle 4 Atlantis. Rather than crumbling down the stretch against a less talented team, the Wildcats only got better as the game wore on and made all the plays needed to pull out a gutsy victory.

“Well, I believe in our heart,” Miller said. “I think that we learned that we got a group that really cares about winning and I’ve mentioned that almost in every interview that I’ve done. It started in the spring, through the summer, and certainly this fall that we practiced very hard. We have great leadership with Chase and Justin and I think we got a really hungry group of guys that are trying to prove that maybe we’re a little bit better than people have given us credit for. That remains to be seen, but I think that motivation has been really healthy.

“And when you’re around our team every day you really get the same look. We have very few ups and downs and that consistency, if we can keep that up, that will take us as far as we can go. And that’s really what we’re trying to do, can we become the best team that we can be. This isn’t a year ago, three years ago, five, six, years ago, when we were here fours years ago, all that we were asked about was National Championship, Final Four. And I think we were 33-4 and lost in the regional final game. That was much different. For us right now it’s can we get better, what will we be like tomorrow, and can we stay on the right track.”

Gonzaga next

Arizona will face No. 3 Gonzaga in the semifinals on Tuesday night, after the Bulldogs beat Illinois 84-78 in the first round.

Here is Miller’s take on the Bulldogs:

“Well we have had some great battles during my 10 years here at Arizona with them. And before I showed up, Arizona and Gonzaga had some real epic games. So they’re one of the premier programs in the country. Mark Few and his staff are the best of the best and what you see is what you get with them. From one year to the next it doesn’t deviate a whole lot. The faces may change but their style, their system, it’s really held up for a couple decades. So we know that they love to push it in transition, they’re going to be very well coached.”

And here are Mark Few’s thoughts on Arizona:

“Well any time you play Sean’s teams, I mean they’re tough. They are tough, they’re going to get right up in your grill and they’re going to guard you and they’re going to guard your first action really well and your second action really well and they’re physical. And it looks to me like they seem to really be playing well together and have a lot of nice flow on the offensive end.

“I think I remember this summer when people were starting to write them off and I kept telling the staff, like I mean they have like six or seven five star guys, just because they played behind upperclassmen last year doesn’t mean they lost all their ability. And Sean’s done a great job putting it together, the transfer kid, the point guard played phenomenal tonight and hit some big shots. So he’s obviously on a roll, we’ll have to deal with him tomorrow. But I’ve been in this thing enough, it’s kind of like the NCAA tournament, all these games take on a new life of their own and hopefully we’ll be better down the stretch tomorrow and we’re looking forward to playing Arizona.”

All quotes via ASAPSports