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Adjusting to new role, Terrell Brown’s second game at Arizona is against a familiar foe

Mike Mattina/Arizona Athletics

Terrell Brown knows more than most about Arizona’s next opponent.

The senior guard faced Eastern Washington twice when he was a 20-point-per-game scorer at Seattle U, and last season’s matchup was particularly memorable.

In a 74-66 loss, Brown posted a career-high 31 points, nine rebounds and four assists, good enough to earn him MVP honors from KenPom’s analytics.

It didn’t come easy, though. Brown played 38 minutes and took 28 shots.

The Eagles always seemed to be a step ahead.

“Last time we played them guys, it was kind of like a chess match because my coach (at Seattle) was at Eastern Washington and they kind of run the same exact things, so it was making adjustments throughout the game and everything like that,” Brown said. “And for myself, I think I performed really well. We didn’t get the result that we wanted, but we played hard and fought the whole game.”

Brown has a much better supporting cast at Arizona, but he expects Saturday’s rematch to be another dogfight. Other than some new halfcourt sets, Brown says the reigning Big Sky champions still run the same plays.

“They’re a really good team,” he said. “They run their sets really good. This year they’re an older team. (Point guard) Jack Perry’s on that team, he’s a senior I believe. (Jacob) Davison (an all-conference guard) is a senior. They have another good power forward (Kim) Aiken (an all-conference player). He’s really good and I know that they’re coming here to play. Their coach can coach his tail off and it’s gonna be a really good game because they’re number one in the Big Sky in the preseason also.”

While the Eagles are mostly the same, Brown is different. Rather than being the star player and always having the ball in his hands, he comes off the bench for Arizona in a super utility role.

He’s still capable of putting up a lot of points, but some nights the Wildcats will ask him to be a distributor. Other nights, they’ll need his defense.

Those are sacrifices he knew he would have to make when transferring from a mid-major to a national power like Arizona.

“I think my role is whatever the team needs me to be,” Brown said. “If that means making a lot of assists and get everybody else involved, then I’ll do that. If that means guarding the opponents’ best player on the guard side, I’ll do that. If that means scoring and being aggressive, I’ll do that. But whatever the coaches need me to do, I’m fine with that role.”

With Kerr Kriisa‘s eligibility in limbo, Arizona needs Brown’s ball-handling right now. He only scored two points via a pair of late free throws in his debut—tying his career low—but dished out seven assists and swiped two steals in the 74-55 win over Grambling State.

“He’s a very good defensive player, he’s really almost like having a second or third point guard on the court,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said that night. “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 (Baker), some of the burden off of James (Akinjo). 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.”

Brown is a fifth-year senior, but he’s still adjusting to this level.

“The speeds adjust from a mid-major to a Power 5 school, being able to adjust on the fly, stuff like that,” he said. “I just want to keep being myself, who I am, playing within myself, not doing anything extra, stay where I’m comfortable at, and as long as I do that and we’re playing hard, playing together as a team, we’ll be fine.”

Brown admitted he was anxious heading into Arizona debut, wanting to make a strong first impression on his new team. Eventually he settled in.

COVID-19 restrictions meant Brown didn’t have the usual roar of the crowd behind him, but he did have some family members cheering him on as he entered the next stage of his career.

“I feel like it wasn’t different because at the end of the day it’s basketball,” Brown said. “You don’t really worry about the fans, you don’t play to the fans, you kind of just play together as a team because you’re the only ones that went through the grind.

“I mean, we haven’t touched the floor in a long time. It’s our first time together on the same side instead of going through it together against each other in practice. So I was nervous, but I think once the game started, you just realize that it’s basketball at the end of day.”