The Arizona Wildcats looked out of sync at times, but still beat the Grambling State Tigers 74-55 on Friday to open the 2020-21 season.
Jordan Brown and James Akinjo each had 19 points in their UA debuts. Brown also had 15 rebounds, completing his second career double-double. The Wildcats shot 38 percent from the field and had 15 turnovers.
Our game recap can be found here. Here is what head coach Sean Miller had to say afterwards. His full interview can be watched at the end of this story.
Miller’s overall takeaway: “We obviously have a long, long way to go. I think it’s obvious if you watched us. It’s what it is, though. I mean, when you have as much change, turnover from one year to the next like we have, so many new and young faces, and players that haven’t played college basketball in some time like Jordan Brown, it’s going to take time. And I’m thrilled that we were able to win the game here, first and foremost. I thought Jordan Brown was outstanding. I don’t really care who we play or where the game is played, if you can get 19 points and 15 rebounds, including 13 defensive rebounds in 32 minutes, that’s one heck of an effort. I commend Jordan because he’s one of our team’s hardest workers. He’s worked very, very hard over the last year and a half and it really showed today. I thought he was our team’s overall best player.”
Miller on Akinjo: “I thought James Akinjo had a lot of good moments. There were some moments that he has to learn from. Again, he hasn’t played in some time, but the two of those players for us tonight really stood out. And it’s something that we have to build off of. James also has an inner confidence that our team needs. Again, I thought he had some really great moments tonight. We asked him to play almost the entire game (38 minutes) and I wish we could have given him a break, but Jemarl Baker was in such foul trouble that we just wanted to keep James on the court because of his experience. And I thought he wore down a little bit as we kept playing him without a break. But I mean 19 points, he was 4 for 9 from 3, James has invested a ton of time in his shooting. I think he’s an improved shooter and more than capable of having nights like he had here tonight. But James Akinjo and Jordan Brown both had very good games.”
On the guard play: “I thought one of the things that really stood out tonight is we’ve tried to keep it simple for our young players and we have to allow Benn Mathurin to play the 2 some so that we could have a lineup of Benn (Mathurin) playing with Dalen Terry. They could play together but it’s usually when we go small. Allowing Benn to play some 2, tonight you saw Jemarl get in foul trouble and without Kerr (Kriisa)...we almost needed another guard, but that’s the problem just with the way this is. You can only do so many things, so we’ll try to implement that into our style and let Benn get maybe some more opportunities at that shooting guard position, more so than we have to this point.”
On Kriisa’s status: “Kerr will return as soon as his championship tournament is over with Estonia. If he was eligible to play, he wouldn’t have left us to participate with the national team, but because he’s not eligible at the moment to play, I thought it was right for both him and his family and Estonia, the country. We allow our players to play on USA Basketball and give them their opportunity. Kerr also deserves his own opportunity, and so we let him go back. But he’ll return right into the beginning here of December, at the conclusion of his tournament. He’s finishing up the semester just like all of our players are and that’s the other part—our academic life right now is on Zoom and you can do it really anywhere so that also led to us allowing him to go back to play for his country because academically he’s able to really do the same things back home as he could do here in Tucson. But we’re excited to have him back. We’re hopeful that he can be eligible to play. He’s a big part of our team, he’s a very good shooter, playmaker, gives us more depth.”
On Terrell Brown, who had two points and seven assists: “He’s a very good defensive player, he’s really almost like having a second or third point guard on the court. I thought he had two or three great passes tonight. You have seven assists and two turnovers, that’s very good. He didn’t score tonight, but he’ll be fine in that area. We need him to be a great playmaker and an excellent defensive player, take some of the burden off of Jemarl, some of the burden off of James. Terrell gives us depth at the point guard position if James is out of the game. Terrell is more than capable of being our point guard. He does it almost every day, so I thought he showed some good things out there tonight and something that he can build from.”
On coaching with a mask and in a fanless McKale Center: “It feels very very strange. You don’t know until you go through it, but being somebody who’s watched these types of events only on TV, it doesn’t feel as different for the viewer at home. But for the participants, for the players, the coaches, the officials, it’s much different. Surreal, really. The mask is what it is. Sometimes you can’t breathe when you have it. It’s terrible but it’s what we’re all required to do and I thought I did a pretty good job of keeping that on tonight. We’ll see.”
On Christian Koloko going 3 for 8 from the field: “He had nine rebounds in 22 minutes, including five offensive rebounds, which I thought was outstanding. But Christian is a young player. I didn’t think that he approached the game with great confidence. He’s one of our team’s best defenders. He struggled tonight in that area. We need him to be better, we need him to be more confident. We need him to be more aggressive. We started him because he’s one of our team’s five best players. He’s had a very good fall, but I didn’t think that the way he practiced necessarily carried over into tonight’s season opener. But you have to understand how young of a player he is, how inexperienced he is. He’s going to continue to improve, I have no doubt about that, but we need him to be better and I think he will.”