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Arizona looking for consistency from Dylan Smith, the team’s X-factor

Utah v Arizona Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

As Dylan Smith goes, so do the Arizona Wildcats. His stat line can almost always predict if the Wildcats will come away a winner.

Check out his splits.

  • In wins: 24.2 MPG, 10.2 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.7 SPG, 1.1 TOV, 50.0 FG%, 50.0 3PT%
  • In losses: 25.0 MPG, 5.2 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 0.6 APG, 0.8 SPG, 2.0 TOV, 25.7 FG%, 23.8 3PT%

Yes, it is true that every Arizona player performs worse in losses. (Obviously. That’s why they lost.) But none of them have a discrepancy as gaping as Smith when it comes to field-goal percentage, 3-point percentage, and points per game.

In fact, for fellow starters like Nico Mannion, Josh Green, and Zeke Nnaji, their scoring averages are almost identical in wins and losses. It’s their efficiency that craters.

“Dylan’s role, and who he is, and then his age, his experience, when he doesn’t play well and really has that off night, I think it affects our team,” head coach Sean Miller said after Saturday’s win vs. Colorado. “When he’s solid, from a chemistry perspective and just kind of how the game feels, I think we all feel better. But Dylan is one of those guys, he’ll keep trying. He fights.”

Arizona beat the Mountain schools by a combined 37 points last weekend, the largest margin in series history. Smith, predictably, was on fire in both games, averaging 12.5 PPG while shooting 5 for 11 from 3 and even dishing out nine assists.

For the season, Smith is shooting 43 percent from behind the arc, the best mark of his career and second-best on the team, only behind Jemarl Baker Jr.

Miller also credited Smith for being one of Arizona’s two best defenders.

But consistency has been a problem.

“Right, that’s what we want from Dylan,” Miller said. “He doesn’t have to score 26 points and make six 3s for us to say he played well. And on the contrary, he doesn’t have to have a bad game, where he doesn’t impact the game in any way. You want to avoid both of those in some ways. But I thought his play over the weekend was a big reason that our team played well. When he takes what the defense gives him, Dylan’s percentage speaks for itself as a shooter.

“When he’s solid (defensively) it becomes contagious. ... You talk about experience, there’s nobody on our team that’s more experienced than Dylan. He’s an important part of what we do, and we want him to be solid. This is the best season that he’s had at Arizona. He’s shooting 43 percent from 3, with 31 makes. That’s impressive. He has 24 turnovers in 18 games, think about that. He’s really cut back on that. Defensively, it’s so important that he’s locked in on his assignment.”

Smith has been a polarizing player ever since he transferred in from UNC Asheville. He was the No. 1 option as a freshman at his last school, but has seen his usage rate plummet since joining the Wildcats, whose talented rosters relegate Smith to a complementary role.

Sometimes, like when he drives to the rim and tries to finish over multiple defenders, it seems like he hasn’t quite grasped that.

But his usage rate is currently at a career-low 17.7, and maybe that explains why he’s having the best season of his career and how he can finally achieve that consistency Miller so desperately wants from him—by specializing in the good parts of his game (spot-up shooting and defending) and minimizing the rest.

“For the most part this year, this is the best season that he’s had at Arizona, and he has to continue to be solid,” Miller said. “He’s solid in practice, he competes really hard in practice. That’s one of the things that we love about him and we just want him to translate that right into the game, kind of do his job, be really solid, and that makes our team good.”