The Arizona Wildcats passed their first road test Sunday, taking down the UConn Huskies 76-72 in the XL Center to improve to 6-2 on the season. They return to action Thursday against Utah Valley.
Our full recap from Sunday’s win can be found here, and here are some things we learned from the victory:
Arizona handled its first road test well.
The Wildcats got off to a strong start despite the early tip-off, and always had an answer anytime UConn appeared to be on the verge of making a run.
Justin Coleman made a layup to put Arizona up 28-27 with 6:28 left in the first half, and the Wildcats led the rest of the way, leading UConn for more than 36 minutes of the action and by as many as eight.
And while the offense stagnated down the stretch — Arizona did not make a field goal in the final seven minutes — it made up for it with some cold-blooded free-throw shooting.
The Wildcats were 19 for 22 from the line and went 12 for 13 in the final 2:13, with Brandon Randolph, Ryan Luther, and Brandon Williams all hitting some big free throws as they stared down UConn’s eccentric student section.
So, sure it wasn’t a perfect performance — UA’s transition defense and 3-point shooting need work — but the Wildcats didn’t falter in a hostile environment even though there were plenty of trying moments.
Chase Jeter is Arizona’s best player
Jeter is Arizona’s best rebounder, best defender, and even the best scorer, too.
The Duke transfer had 14 points, seven rebounds and a block in 25 minutes before fouling out in the late goings. He has scored 14 points or more in three straight games.
Jeter was 6 for 9 from the field and drew two charges, continuing his mastery of putting himself in the right place at the right time on defense.
And while it is true that most of his field goals are created by Arizona’s guards (a Jeter drop-step being the exception in this game), there is something to be said for a guy who is a reliable target for his teammates.
Not only does Jeter have soft hands evidenced by a low turnover percentage, but you can almost always count on him to score when he catches the ball deep. The big man was shooting 81.5 percent at the rim entering Sunday’s contest.
His proficiency was noticeable when Ira Lee received a dump off pass from Brandon Williams, but fumbled it out of bounds rather than converting it for a layup or dunk.
Bench isn’t as bad as it showed in Maui
While Arizona’s bench did not match the 47 points it scored against Georgia Southern on Thursday, it still managed to produce 24 against the Huskies.
Ryan Luther and Dylan Smith had 10 apiece. Luther showed some aggression early in the game by driving into the lane, then went 4 for 5 from the charity stripe.
Smith had a day that was a microcosm of his career. He made two 3s and a threw pair of no-look passes that led to baskets, but then also did some really questionable things, like pulling up for a contested 3 in transition (it did not go in) and pushing the ball into a swarm of UConn defenders when Arizona was badly outnumbered (it led to a turnover).
Still, points are points and Arizona needed all 10 that Smith scored.
Randolph is slumping, but his free-throw shooting is an asset
Brandon Randolph went 5 for 15 from the field and has missed nine of his last 10 3s, despite getting some good really looks against UConn.
It’s critical for the Wildcats to get him back on track, but he still found a way to impact the game by going 9 for 9 from the charity stripe, including 7 for 7 in the final 2:13.
Randolph is now shooting over 90 percent from the free-throw line.
That was another takeaway from this game: that Arizona doesn’t live and die by the 3. The Wildcats were just 3 for 17 from beyond the arc, yet still shot 46 percent and, most importantly, won the game.
A realistic look at the rotation
The Wildcats pretty much had an eight-man rotation in this game with Lee, Luther and Smith being the three subs.
Alex Barcello only played four minutes and Devonaire Doutrive did not play at all against UConn, despite both shining against Georgia Southern.
Sean Miller, like most coaches, tends to contract the rotation when games are tight, meaning he still doesn’t have a ton of faith in those two.
Barcello actually played well when he was on the court, scoring in the paint and diving for a loose ball.
No defensive stopper
Jalen Adams was a problem.
The UConn guard had 21 points on 9-of-16 shooting and continually found his way into the lane, setting his teammates up with lots of open shots, finishing with six assists.
For the second year in a row, Arizona doesn’t have someone like Kadeem Allen or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson that it can deploy to disrupt an opponent’s best player.
This is a big win
The Pac-12 is easily the worst major-conference in college basketball, so the Wildcats might not have a lot of opportunities to pick up quality wins once they begin conference play.
Thus, it is important for them to rack up as many as they can in non-conference play, and now they have two by beating Iowa State and UConn and still have a couple more opportunities (Alabama, Baylor) to add more.