The Arizona Wildcats defeated the Chaminade Silverswords, 75-64, on Sunday to wrap up the exhibition season.
On the surface, Dylan Smith had a miserable night, missing all seven shots he took in 17 minutes, including three 3s and a lightly-contested layup.
Head coach Sean Miller drew some positives, though.
“Dylan tonight played an excellent defensive game,” he said. “In the two games that he’s played, he’s had 11 defensive rebounds. For a guard that’s outstanding and his effort and I think his ability to defend is among our best on our team. It’s just offensively, it hasn’t worked for him yet.”
Miller thinks it will eventually, but it’s fair to be skeptical. Smith only shot 36 percent from the field last season and 37 percent when he was at UNC Asheville, his 3-point percentages a tad lower than that.
If Smith cannot get going offensively — history suggests he can’t — you wonder if Arizona would give his minutes to someone like Devonaire Doutrive instead. The freshman was the only scholarship player (other than Jake DesJardins) to not play in Sunday’s exhibition.
We’re not at that point yet, though.
“I think he’s so eager to get on the board that you can sometimes press and miss some shots that you normally make, and that’s what he’s going through,” Miller said of Smith.
The Brandons need some help
Brandon Randolph and Brandon Williams had another big night, combining for 42 of Arizona’s 75 points. The Wildcats need other players to score, though, and it was noticeable Sunday how few shot-creators this team has.
Miller wants Justin Coleman and Emmanuel Akot to be more assertive in that regard. Coleman did score 14 points Sunday after a quiet game Tuesday, getting to the line six times. He also had three assists.
Akot was held to four points on six shots in 24 minutes.
“Sometimes you’re so unselfish that it can work against your team,” Miller said. “And I think pointing that out to both guys, we also want them to shoot open shots and sometimes be even more aggressive trying to score because Emmanuel and Justin in two different ways can be double figure scorers and we need them to score.”
Arizona no longer has a post player like Dusan Ristic or Deandre Ayton that it can run its offense through, so guards and wings will be responsible for generating offense.
Williams in particular has been tasked with playmaking, a challenging role for a freshman, who admitted he got fatigued as Sunday’s game wore on. He played 34 minutes.
But Miller thinks Williams can handle that. He has to, right?
“He has a big role on our team and we’re getting him ready for the role,” Miller said.
How does Williams feel about that pressure?
“I don’t really feel pressure,” he said.
Arizona can also manufacture offense with set plays to take heat off its playmakers, though Miller said it can’t go overboard with that, otherwise the offense could get too rigid.
“There’s a fine line because in your quest to micromanage and call plays and control it from the bench it can sometimes work against your team because they don’t play free and they’re always looking over there,” he said.
“So I think it’s the balance of you want them to have confidence and play free, and with flow. That’s the word where the ball moves easily without plays being called, but you’re right, we did that a couple times. One of Brandon Randolph’s best open shots came on a set play where his teammates screened for him and it freed him up. ... So it is a different way of looking at it and it takes them some time to get everybody on the same page.”
Outsized by a Division II team
As it has been repeated often, Arizona could struggle inside this season and Sunday’s game was a good indication of that.
Chaminade outrebounded Arizona 36-35 and held a 12-9 edge in second-chance points. It also owned a 36-32 advantage in points in the paint.
Not a good look against a Division II team.
It didn’t help that Ryan Luther and Chase Jeter were hindered by foul trouble, playing 24 and 17 minutes, respectively. Plus, Jeter, who had six rebounds, is still on the mend from an injury.
“He gives us size and all of the things that come with it,” Miller said of the Duke transfer. “A putback on an offensive rebound, somebody around the basket that can block the shot that’s harder to score against.
“You saw even tonight in the limited role that he had that he’s also very fleet of foot. He’s quick, smart, and for a 6-10 guy he can move. So that’s something that we really count on defensively. He had some good moments tonight, but tonight was just more about letting him play and getting him out there for the first time in a long time.”
Defense a work in progress
Miller’s postgame presser featured some déjà vu when he said Arizona has to learn how to play with effort on defense for 40 minutes.
Such words were repeated over and over last season, but his team never got the memo. Maybe it will this year.
“It’s not an easy thing,” he said. “Experienced teams, really talented teams, maybe some of the best defensive teams we’ve had, if you judge them by the month of November were still a work in progress. That’s the starting point, being able to play for 40 minutes and just be incredibly cohesive, hard-playing.
“Effort and energy gets you a lot of things. When you focus on effort and a bunch of guys playing hard, it leads to the offensive end where you’re unselfish. Very seldom do you have a team that plays together and with tremendous effort on the defensive end and that same team on offense is selfish or doesn’t move the ball. They really work together. Tonight we really learned that.”
Chaminade shot 45 percent overall and 50 percent in the second half, but the Wildcats forced 21 turnovers and even a few shot clock violations, too. In other words, it was a mixed bag defensively.
“We had some great moments both halves when we played both ends, but when our effort or the details drop, our room for error lessens, and you feel that,” Miller said.
Same first name
Arizona’s two leading scorers have the same first name, which can be problematic at times.
“It’s kind of weird,” Brandon Williams said. “I always tell Coach Miller to call me B Will, but I always get confused in the huddles and stuff, but it’s cool.”
Williams calls Brandon Randolph “Slim” to help avoid such confusion. How does Miller differentiate them?
“Are you serious?” he scoffed. “I call them Brandon and Brandon. And one is Randolph, one is Williams.”