Chase Jeter scored a career-high 21 points as the Arizona Wildcats snapped a two-game losing streak with a 61-42 win over the Montana Grizzlies on Wednesday in McKale Center.
After being badly outmuscled by Baylor on Saturday, the Wildcats flipped the script against the reigning Big Sky champions, logging 42 points in the paint, outrebounding the Grizzlies by 10, and holding them to 27 percent shooting.
A true bounceback performance.
“A couple things we talked a lot about leading into tonight’s game ... is that we have to be a hard-playing, together group,” said UA coach Sean Miller said.
“We don’t have the room for error to ... have segments of the game where we’re disconnected. Whether that be team defense, whether that be zone offense. And tonight, we didn’t have a great offensive night, but I have no doubt that we played with maximum effort on defense.”
The Wildcats, who have lived and died by the 3 this season, only hoisted 12 triples, clearly making a point to pound the ball inside and, more specifically, to Jeter who had trouble maneuvering around Baylor’s double teams Saturday.
The UA center went 9 for 15 from the field and tracked down six rebounds, feasting on a Montana frontcourt that was without starting center Jamar Akoh.
“We just weren’t able to really get him the ball (against Baylor) and maybe Chase himself against that type of defense, it was like first time he’s seen it, wasn’t himself,” Miller said. “But I do think that if we can get him the ball consistently, good things will happen.”
Arizona also made a starting lineup change, replacing Brandon Williams with Dylan Smith, as the former deals with a knee contusion he suffered when he banged knees with Justin Coleman against Baylor.
The new look worked. Arizona grabbed a 16-7 lead through eight minutes. Williams, who seemed unfazed and perhaps even energized by the bench role, hit a 3 and dished out a trio of assists.
Smith only had two points in 30 minutes, but Miller said he was “amazing” on defense, comparing his effort to Kadeem Allen back in the day.
“He brought us a lot of energy,” Jeter said.
That early energy was sapped for a while when Montana switched to zone defense and the deer-in-the-headlights look, as Miller called it Saturday, returned.
Arizona got sloppy and went 10 minutes without a field goal, committing seven turnovers in that span. Still, Jeter was there to buoy the offense. He scored twice underneath to keep the Wildcats afloat, converting an and-one to extend UA’s lead to 22-15 with 1:27 left.
Jeter had 11 first-half points.
Montana had plenty of offensive issues of its own, shooting just 28 percent in the first half.
The Grizzlies had a chance to whittle UA’s lead just before the half ended, but Brandon Randolph soared for a chase-down block to erase a would-be layup, keeping it a 22-15 game.
Arizona opened the second half not unlike it opened the first half, continuing to attack the paint.
After a couple more baskets by Jeter, Coleman knifed into the lane for two, extending UA’s lead to 32-21. Coleman scooped in another layup to put Arizona up 16 with 13:47 to play.
Coleman scored all six of his points in the second half. The Wildcats did not experience a mid-half lull, shooting 50 percent in the period, building and building on their lead. Montana’s 42 points were the fewest Arizona has allowed in a game since a Dec. 2015 win over NAU.
“Part of what you felt tonight ... is our inability to score,” Miller said. “We had 16 turnovers against a team that really doesn’t force a lot. So if you just look at 16 and make that number 10 or 12, then all of a sudden you get more shots at the basket. Now the score is maybe in the 70s, which isn’t great, but it’s a far cry from the low 60s. We’re not good enough to turn it over 16 times on offense and then have maybe a couple guys not shooting it well. It’s a struggle, but we’re going to win with our defense. We have to be a team that people admire our cohesiveness and our effort and we have to scheme.”
Unlike Baylor, the Grizzlies were unable to make a dent on the offensive glass, being held to four second-chance points.
Miller stressed the importance of rebounding as a team throughout the week, and Arizona heeded his instruction. Four players grabbed six rebounds — Jeter, Ira Lee, Emmanuel Akot and Ryan Luther.
The scoring was not so balanced. Randolph, the only non-Jeter Wildcat to score in double figures, dropped 15 points on nine shots. Lee was a bright spot with seven points. Best of all, he only turned the ball over once and did not commit a foul.
“Our offense will improve, we have a lot of new faces in different roles,” Miller said. “Confidence is a part of this, and we have a few players that are certainly better at shooting and taking care of the ball then maybe they’ve shown recently. And that’s kind of where we’re at as a group right now. So hopefully we can have a couple more good days, build, and be ready for very good UC Davis team (on Saturday).”
That game represents a chance for the Wildcats to build their first winning streak since Baylor snapped their run of 52 straight home wins against non-conference foes.
“You lose one and it hurts because you’re not used to losing,” Miller said. “Our guys they understand that tradition that we have, they understand how unbelievable our fans are and and what McKale Center means to Tucson, to our team, to past players. It’s bigger than just a 40-minute basketball game when you play here. So when you lose, you feel like you’re letting a lot of people down. Most importantly, you feel like you you’re letting yourself down and this team down. So nobody felt good about what we did against Baylor. Some of it was self inflicted, some of it as a matter of circumstances, but you can only control the response, and we moved forward.”