So it is possible to win ugly by 30 points.
The Arizona Wildcats’ 2018-19 opener was far from a work of art, winning 90-60 against a Houston Baptist team that will struggle to post many victories this season. Coach Sean Miller will no doubt spend the next few days trying to work on his team’s many first-night blemishes, with the hope most will get cleared up by the time Arizona plays again Sunday night against Cal Poly.
This game, along with exhibitions against Western New Mexico and Chaminade, will provide only a few minor brush strokes to the portrait that this team paints. The sample size remains far too small to make any definitive determinations about Arizona this season, but we can at least begin to speculate.
Here’s what we’ve learned so far about the Wildcats, mostly from Wednesday night’s regular-season debut:
Brandon Williams is human
Make no mistake, freshman guard Brandon Williams is going to be a very fun player to watch. But bear in mind that, since he is in his first year of college, that means there are going to be some bad games.
Wednesday was one of them.
Williams was 2 of 11 from the field and made only 1 of 6 three-pointers. This, after going a combined 15 of 27 from the field in the exhibition games. He started 1 of 9 and just couldn’t get a shot to fall.
Yet Williams still finished with 13 points in his collegiate debut thanks to an 8-of-9 performance from the foul line. His confidence never seemed to waver, either when he was trying to get to the hoop or dishing out a game-high five assists to teammates.
Chase Jeter may be Arizona’s most important player
After Chase Jeter scored just one point with zero field goals in a foul-plagued effort against Chaminade, Miller said the goal of that first game was more about getting the Duke transfer to shake off the rust. After all, he hadn’t played in a real game since the 2016-17 season, sitting out all of last year and also the first exhibition.
In his official Arizona debut, Jeter looked much different. So much so that how he plays this season, more than anyone else, may make or break things for the Wildcats.
Jeter posted a double-double against Houston Baptist, scoring 11 points with 10 rebounds in only 20 minutes of action. The junior center was 4 of 5 from the field, making all three shots in the second half thanks to some nifty post moves.
He’s no Deandre Ayton—no one is expecting as such, or certainly shouldn’t—but Jeter is incredibly important to Arizona’s team.
Scoring isn’t the only way to contribute
It wasn’t until there were 26 seconds left in a long-decided game that Dylan Smith got into the scoring column, making a layup and the and-one after being fouled. Before that, the junior guard was 0 for 4 from the field and 0 for 2 from the foul line.
So why did Smith log 20 minutes? Because he has shown he can make a difference without scoring.
Smith had nine rebounds, three offensive—including two on the same possession when he came flying in from beyond the arc to grab long misses—along with two blocks and a steal.
He isn’t going to be asked to be a consistent scorer for Arizona, not with so many other guards and wings who have shown the capability to do that. Instead Smith’s role is going to be of a glue guy.