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Notebook: On Randolph’s big night, Williams’ double-double, Akot’s small steps, Arizona’s schedule, and more

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Notes from the Wildcats’ win over Utah Valley

Photo by Simon Asher

The Arizona Wildcats came back from a 12-point halftime deficit to beat Utah Valley 80-69 on Thursday in McKale Center.

The Wildcats improve to 7-2 heading into a crucial road game at Alabama on Saturday.

Our recap from the win can be found here, and here are some more postgame notes to supplement it.

Randolph’s performance brought back some memories

Remember when Gabe York splashed nine 3-pointers on Senior Day against Stanford?

Well, Brandon Randolph’s four 3s in three minutes on Thursday might have been the closest thing to it. At least, that’s what came to mind for Sean Miller as he watched the sophomore explode for 12 points in such a short period of time.

“Those were four big, big shots,” he said.

Indeed, they allowed the Wildcats to quickly erase a surprising 12-point halftime deficit, and they also continued Randolph’s streak of scoring in double figures every game this season.

Randolph, whose scoring average has more than quintupled as a sophomore, only scored in double figures four times as a freshman, so Miller has been proud of his development.

“He has the gold jersey, practicing hard, working hard on defense and it’s really exciting to see him go from his freshman year in the role that he had and the player that he was, to all of a sudden his sophomore year and watch him grow like he has,” he said.

“Just think about his last two games. He went to UConn, went 9 for 9 from the line, did not make a 3 and ended with a double figure scoring night in spite of his shooting. And then on the heels of that, he comes back and breaks the game open with fours made 3s.”

Randolph snapped what had been a 1-for-11 3-point shooting slump.

Don’t forget about the other Brandon

Brandon Williams did his part in the comeback win, scoring 10 of his 15 points in the second half, bouncing back from a first half in which he had more field goal attempts (6) than points (5).

Miller called the freshman guard “unflappable”, noting he has an enviable ability to put things in the past.

“He just moves onto the next play. It’s a great characteristic to have. I actually wish I had that characteristic sometimes,” Miller said. “Nothing bothers him. And those types of guys, they’re gamers. Just like at UConn, a guy walks to the line in front of 14,000 people, knocks in both in as if he’d been there many times. Tonight, he did not have a great first half. We challenged him in a number of ways, but the stat that really jumps out for me is he had 10 rebounds. He had eight defensive rebounds, 15 points, played a lot of point guard because Justin Coleman was in foul trouble and in 30 minutes had two turnovers. So he played an excellent game. And he too is getting better.”

And if you were surprised Williams grabbed 10 rebounds, you’re not alone.

“When someone told me on the bench, I was shocked,” he said. “When they said you have a double-double, I thought it was assists. But to take the load off guys like Ryan Luther and Chase (Jeter) and Ira (Lee) as a guard, that goes a long way.”

Akot making “small steps”

Emmanuel Akot made his third straight start Thursday, and each has been better than the last.

The sophomore had seven points, three rebounds, and even four assists against Utah Valley, showing off his versatile skill set that has rarely been on display throughout his young career.

On one possession late in the second half, Akot grabbed a rebound, brought the ball down the court, and dished it to Williams for a layup. The very next possession, Akot dove to the floor for a steal before finding Dylan Smith for two on a fast break.

Perhaps most importantly, Akot looked confident, evidenced when he sank a 3 in rhythm to put Arizona up by eight in late in the second half. It was only his second made 3 of the season. He was 1 for 11 entering the night.

“He continues to make small steps,” Miller said. “I thought the guy who scored on him a couple of times in the second half made some tough shots, but he was right there and he gives you another ball handler on the court. So much of Emman is confidence. You forget how young these guys are and that 3-point shot he took in front of our bench, you almost sensed that it was going to go in because there was no hesitation. He had a good look and I was really happy for him that it went in.”

Luther also had seven points, as he continues to get acclimated to a bench role.

That’s more like it

The Wildcats were the worst 3-point shooting team in the Pac-12 entering Thursday (30.3%), but Miller thinks his players are better shooters than they’ve shown, so their 12-for-22 mark against Utah Valley might be a sign that they are progressing to the mean.

“But I’ll also tell you guys, if you really pay attention to the styles that we’ve played against, we’ve played against a number of really quick, full court, half court pressure type of teams,” he said.

“Georgia Southern, UConn, Auburn, our season opener, Houston Baptist, those are teams that really get out and take away the 3-point shot. Tonight was just the opposite. Utah Valley’s big and strong and smart and they tried to clog the lane. That’s why we had so many charges. We drove to shoot, you gotta drive to pass, but we adjusted. To our players’ credit, some of the best moments in the second half, we adjusted to the defense, guys put the ball on the floor to pass it, the ball moved better. And that’s what really broke the game open.”

Shoutout to Ryan Reynolds

Miller again gave a shoutout to UA director of basketball operations Ryan Reynolds for putting together a schedule that Miller thinks is aptly preparing his team for Pac-12 play.

And, yes, Miller has heard the complaints that UA’s non-conference schedule, particularly the home slate, is not exciting enough.

For what it’s worth, KenPom says Arizona’s non-conference schedule is the 92nd toughest in college basketball.

“Not everybody’s going to understand college basketball scheduling in 2018. What once was, is no longer in place,” Miller said. “But again, like Utah Valley, a game like Georgia Southern, if you continue to watch these teams, they’re excellent teams and you get credit for winning if you win. Your team gets better and grows and it toughens you for conference play. And I think our schedule speaks for itself. Our next game (against Alabama) is going to be one of our most difficult and then the game after that (against Baylor) will be incredibly difficult.

“So I think everything’s set up for us to prepare for the Pac-12 and also give our guys the most opportunities we can. We only get 13 of these and we’re going to try the best we can to have a great non-conference season. And I think where we’re at right now, a lot of us in our locker room feel good because we’ve earned the record that we have right now.”

Other notes

  • It was a rough night for Ira Lee, who committed four turnovers in eight minutes. His playing time has decreased the past two games.
  • Arizona has now won 52 non-conference home games in a row, but it was more likely than not that that streak was going to be broken Thursday. The Wildcats only had a 45 percent win probability when they trailed 41-29 with 30 seconds left in the first half, per KenPom. Arizona’s last home loss in a non-conference game was against San Diego State in November 2011. UA’s starting lineup featured Kyle Fogg, Solomon Hill, Jesse Perry, Jordin Mayes and Kyryl Natyazhko. Arizona is 87-3 at home in its last 90 games.
  • Chase Jeter failed to score in double figures for just the second time this season. His four points were almost a season low, but he only scored three against Gonzaga. He still managed to grab nine rebounds in 25 minutes, and, of course, took a charge. Arizona has taken 27 through nine games. Miller says they are the most valuable play in basketball because they are both a foul and turnover for the opposing team.
  • Arizona made 14 of 16 free throws Thursday, now ranking 25th in the country in free-throw percentage (76.8). Its guards have been terrific in that regard. Randolph is shooting 93 percent, Coleman is at 87 percent, and Williams is just below him at 86 percent.