What was it that Sean Miller said about Devonaire Doutrive after Arizona’s bench struggled in the Maui Invitational?
Oh right: “Sometimes a young guy like that will come in with confidence and maybe bolster what we have.”
Well, Doutrive finally got his chance to shine Thursday and he made those words prophetic. The freshman checked in with 12:09 left in the first half, and made a layup less than 90 seconds later to tie the game at 15 after the Wildcats staggered to a slow start.
By the end of the night, Doutrive filled the stat sheet with eight points, three rebounds and two assists in just 11 minutes, seemingly earning himself a permanent spot in the rotation.
“I was very impressed with Devonaire, he’s a young player that just keeps coming on,” Miller said. “You watch him every day in practice and he’s working extremely hard. We’ve talked to him about just staying with it and as he has, you can see he got into game in the first half and made some really good plays. He plays with confidence and it’s kinda fun to see a young guy like him develop and I think he’ll be a part of what we do here moving forward.”
Fun is a good way to describe Doutrive’s highlight play, which was a behind-the-back pass to Alex Barcello for a layup.
The flashy pass only caught Georgia Southern off guard.
“It wasn’t a surprise to me because I know he can play,” Barcello said. “He’s a great player. He reads situations really well and he’s just going to continue to improve everyday.”
Miller echoed those sentiments.
“It was a clever play,” he said. “He has a great sense and feel for the game and it’s just a matter of him understanding how important defense is, being in the right position.”
Barcello’s big night
By converting that layup, Barcello surpassed his previous career-high of 11 points. He later hit a 3 to give him 16 points on 10 shots.
It’s hard to imagine anyone saw that coming because Barcello had only scored nine points all season entering Thursday’s game and was held scoreless in the previous four games.
“It was great to see him make shots in the game,” Miller said. “We’ve really stayed with him and he’s one of our hardest workers. We watch him every day in practice and through the long hours of the summer and fall preparing, and it’s just a matter of him playing with confidence knowing that we want him to shoot the ball.”
In the end, Arizona’s bench finished with 47 points, its most since scoring 48 against Bryant on Dec. 22, 2011. Was Thursday’s performance an aberration or was the unit’s poor performance in the Maui Invitational the aberration?
It’s still too early to tell, Miller says.
“The competition there was stiffer certainly than it was tonight, but you can’t judge a team and you certainly can’t judge young players and a new group in the first couple of games,” he said.
“It’s gonna take time, it’s gonna take more games, more practices, and we’ll be a lot more of a finished product as we head towards Christmas than the last few days here of November. The good news is we’ve played the No. 1 team in the nation, we’ve played Auburn who I think will be one of the top seeds in this year’s tournament, we’ve played Iowa State, who I believe has a great chance of being in the tournament and you learn, you grow, you improve when you play against that type of competition, so that’s why you play in those types of events.”
Akot starts, but still struggles
Emmanuel Akot made his first start of the season, taking Ryan Luther’s place at power forward. Miller made the move to better match up against a small Georgia Southern team as well as to try to give Akot a boost of confidence, since the sophomore has been struggling this season.
It didn’t seem to work. Akot finished with two points and three rebounds in 24 minutes, missing three of the four shots he took.
“Emman has to do the things that make him a good player,” Miller said. “He’s versatile on defense, he’s one of our team’s best passers, he has to take what defense gives him, and he’s a very young player. So again, it’s just hard to look at anyone on our team and think they’re a finished product.
“So with Emman, we’re going to stick with him and he’s a great kid. He’s a very, very good player and he’s gonna find his niche. I’m confident in saying that.”
As for Luther, he mostly had a quiet game, but did hit a pair of 3s and finish with eight points. Miller mentioned Tuesday that the Pitt transfer injured his non-shooting hand in Maui, which affected his performance in the losses to Gonzaga and Auburn.
Luther had two fingers on that hand taped during Thursday’s game, and Miller thought it hindered his confidence.
“But I think every couple of days that it moves forward, he’ll play with more confidence, not worry about it as much,” he said. “And I’ve tried to talk to him and really encourage him to control the things that he can. If he’s not as confident putting the ball in that hand, then so be it. But he can really help us, and when we get to UConn on Sunday he’ll be that much further ahead. Every couple of days he gets closer and closer towards 100 percent.”
Chase Jeter was a question mark heading into this season, after began his collegiate career with two lackluster years at Duke.
But he looks like a different player with the Wildcats, one that resembles the Jeter that played in the McDonald’s All-American game.
The former five-star recruit notched his third double-double of the season Thursday by logging a team-high 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Jeter’s scoring has been the most surprising part of his game. The redshirt junior is averaging 12.4 points per game this year, scoring in double figures in six of seven games. He only scored in double figures one time at Duke and only averaged 2.4 points in 14 minutes as a sophomore.
As far as Jeter’s rebounding and defense goes, he has been as good as expected.
“I was the assistant coach when he played on the 18-and-under USA basketball team and the thing that he brought to the table that summer was he was a tremendous offensive rebounder,” Miller said. “At Bishop Gorman High School, he rebounded. I’m sure if we were at Duke, the thing that they would have liked the most about him is he rebounds and he does it every day. A year ago against Deandre (Ayton) and Dusan (Ristic), he rebounded. So we count on him to do that.
“I’ve already talked a lot about his defense. He’s intelligent, he gives his body up, draws charges, which I don’t know too many big guys that draw charges, and he’s one of them.”
Aside from some defensive lapses in transition and poor first-half 3-point shooting, there was not much to complain about in the win.
The Wildcats outrebounded Georgia Southern 42-34, had 22 assists to six turnovers, and shot 51 percent while holding the Eagles to 39 percent shooting and getting contributions from virtually everyone on the roster.
So Miller was asked if he was pleased that his team had that kind of response after two losses in Maui, since “it could have gone the other way.”
His answer was all-timer.
“No it can’t,” Miller said defiantly. “It’s November. If you’re holding us to the standard of ‘I cannot believe that you didn’t beat Auburn or Gonzaga,’ you’re in the planet Pluto. They’re really, really good teams. (Gonzaga is) the No. 1 team in the nation and Auburn is going to be one of the top seeds. Auburn won the SEC last year and they could win it again this year. They have everybody back and they added (Austin) Wiley. We lost our top seven or eight players.
“So, no, we’re not going to fold and you’re not going to go down that path. We’re a team that’s going to lose a few (games), but that doesn’t mean we can’t be a good team and a team that’s better than everybody thinks. But if you’re going to point the finger that ‘man, you lost two games in Maui and your team’s going to go south’, that’s not happening. That’s not going to happen here.”