The Arizona Wildcats hand out six accolades following each game now, a new policy implemented this season.
There is the Player of the Game, the Sixth Man of the Game, the Playmaker of the Game, the Screener of the Game, the Hustler of the Game, and the Defender of the Game.
Dylan Smith won the hustler and defender awards in the opener against Houston Baptist, so it has been a solid start to the season for him.
“I didn’t even know that was an award,” he said. “But it’s good to win it.”
The lanky 6-foot-5 guard used his stretching wingspan to record nine rebounds, two blocks, and a steal off the bench in the 90-60 victory. If he’s not the team’s best perimeter defender, he’s right near the top, Sean Miller said.
“Coach Miller is expecting a few more things out of me,” said the redshirt junior, one of the most experienced players on the roster. “Guarding another team’s best guard or wing and just being more vocal. And the leadership aspect is big.”
Smith says his love for defense has grown since last season, when he was not a difference-maker for a Wildcats team that finished 83rd in the country in defensive efficiency and struggled locking down the perimeter.
“I’ve always considered myself a pretty good defender, but as I’ve been at Arizona and I’ve learned how Coach Miller wants to play,” said Smith, who noted he benefitted from defending Allonzo Trier in practice last season.
“Defense has definitely gotten easier for me. It’s something you can always improve on, just the little things. Everybody gets scored on. Me, I take it personal. I hate getting scored on. It’s a pride thing with Coach Miller and something you can can control.”
And an area Smith knows Arizona needs to improve in if it wants to make the NCAA Tournament, let alone avoid another first-round exit.
“To beat good teams, and teams we play early on in November and even in Maui, and make the tournament, you gotta play defense,” he said.
Smith, a Mobile, Alabama native, described his defensive edge as “doggish” basketball, which stems from his southern upbringing.
“Everyone plays harder, everyone plays more physical there, so I hope me and Justin (Coleman) can bring that to Coach Miller’s style of play and I feel like we can,” he said.
Smith’s work on the glass against Houston Baptist was equally impressive — and surprising. His nine rebounds were five more than his previous high at Arizona.
The Wildcats, lacking size in the frontcourt, sorely need that kind of effort.
“This year we have to rebound as a team,” Miller said. “We don’t have that couple of bigs in there that are going to get those big rebounds for you. We need our guards to get in there.”
Interestingly, what used to be Smith’s biggest strength — his shooting — has yet to make an appearance this season.
A career 34-percent 3-point shooter, Smith is 0 for 7 from distance this season if you include his numbers from the two exhibitions, continuing the shooting slump he endured at the end of last season when he missed the last 11 3s he took.
“I never had a slump like this,” he said. “This one has been going since Las Vegas last year.”
Miller said Smith is lacking confidence in his shot. The UA guard agreed, but both think it is only a matter of time before he recaptures his rhythm.
Until then, Smith will try to prove his worth in other ways, and maybe pick up a few more awards along the way.
“We’re looking forward to him settling in and taking good shots and making a few of those as well,” Miller said. “They just haven’t fallen. I don’t look at Dylan at all as playing scared. Playing scared means you’re not doing anything out there. He’s doing every single thing we’re asking him to do. I think it’s really a matter of him settling in.”