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What we learned from Arizona’s balanced win over Cal State Bakersfield

Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

The Arizona Wildcats routed Cal State Bakersfield 85-60 on Wednesday to improve to 4-0 on the season.

Our recap can be found here, Coach Sean Miller’s postgame presser can be watched/read here, an update on Kerr Kriisa is here, and below are some additional takeaways.

Those shooting sessions paid off for Terrell Brown and Dalen Terry

Terrell Brown was a distributor in Arizona’s first three games, but sort of reverted to his Seattle ways on Wednesday against an old WAC foe. In a good way.

Brown poured in a game-high 16 points, his first double-figure scoring outing at Arizona, but still had six assists, four rebounds and a steal. The most impressive thing—and what could be most critical for this team—is that he shot 4 for 8 from 3.

That is a massive uptick from the first three games when Brown only attempted two triples and missed both of them. He was a 30 percent 3-point shooter at Seattle, but he’s hoping all the shooting drills he did this summer will yield better results at Arizona.

They sure did Wednesday.

“That was a big thing that I worked on this summer until now, just keep shooting 3s,” Brown said. “Because I know what James Akinjo, Dalen Terry, Benn (Mathurin), Jemarl Baker, even our big men, they’re gonna get a lot of double teams and all that stuff,.

“We are an unselfish team, so I gotta be ready to shoot it you know and that’s what I’ve been working on a lot with Jason (Terry) and the coaching staff. After practice we all have shooting groups and everything.”

Dalen Terry spends a lot of time with Jason Terry (no relation) too, and saw it pay off Wednesday as well. The freshman buried two of his three 3-point attempts after starting the season 1 for 7.

“He shoots between 6 and 7 a.m. four or five days a week,” Miller said. “He’s constantly working after practice, before practice. And I think that’s another really good quality of our team, that they love the game. They like to be around each other. And you could probably feel that a little bit when you watch them play.”

This could be Arizona’s highest-octane offense under Sean Miller

Miller is right about the last part. This team has been incredibly unselfish this season. Its assist rate (67%) is 14th-best in the country. Arizona has never finished above 32nd in the country and usually finishes 100+.

Wednesday, the Wildcats had 21 assists on 27 made field goals as they shot 48 percent from the field and 43 percent from 3. Five different players scored in double figures and only two players shot the ball 10 or more times.

This group plays hard, seems to flow well together and doesn’t care who takes what shots so long as they go in. Miller praised James Akinjo, who had seven assists, for setting the tone and I thought that was notable since he was criticized at Georgetown for shooting his team out of games.

“The biggest thing is that we’ve been together since like late August, so we got that feel from each other doing our individual workouts and we find each other’s hotspots and stuff like that,” Brown said. “Everyone on this team can it’s just about sharing the ball. The offense that we run is really passing, getting the whole team involved, so I feel like everyone can play.”

Combine that willingness to move the ball with some small-ball lineups that are loaded with athletes and ball-handlers, and you get a team whose offense is currently averaging only 15 seconds per possession, the fastest pace in the Miller era.

The next quickest? Last year’s team, actually, at 16.3.

Can this tempo be sustained?

“We’ve always wanted to push it,” Miller said when I asked that question. “As games move forward sometimes your pace tends to settle in, and I’m sure some of that will happen. But we want to run off of defensive stops. We want to be fast into our offense. Our guys are doing a good job of that right now. We had great possessions off of missed shots, blocked shots, steals, and some of those possessions led to 3-point shooting. Hopefully we can keep that up.”

Dalen Terry is Arizona’s not-so-hidden gem

Arizona outscored CSUB by 24 when Terry was on the court Wednesday, tied with Brown for the highest plus-minus on the team. The freshman has been an ace in that stat so far, posting a +84 through four games.

That’s the best mark on the team and breaks down this way on a game-by-game basis:

  • +21 vs. Grambling State, tied for best on team
  • +9 vs. Eastern Washington, third-best on team
  • +30 vs. NAU, second-best on team
  • +24 vs. CSUB, tied for best on team

Plus-minus can be a dumb stat sometimes. If you put me on the same team as LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Luka Doncic, I might be able to post a +20 in an NBA game just by getting out of their way.

But in Dalen Terry’s case, the plus-minus stat matches the eye test and the rest of the stat sheet. He had 10 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals on 4-of-5 shooting.

He just impacts the game in so many ways. He rebounds. He drives. He dishes. He blocks shots. He’s active on the perimeter. He guards multiple positions. He can push the ball in transition. The only thing he hasn’t done so well is shoot, but he showed Wednesday that he is capable.

With that much versatility, Terry looks like the perfect glue guy.

“He plays all over the place and he’s a pass-first player,” Miller said. “He’s looking to get his teammates involved. I think he’s also a really tough guy and a competitor, plays both ends. I’ve been really impressed with his work ethic.”

Baker went back-to-back for the first time

Consistency has been an issue for Jemarl Baker since arriving from Kentucky, so Wednesday was a great step in the right direction for him. He followed up his record-setting 33-point outburst by scoring 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting, including a good mark of 3 for 7 from 3.

It was his first time scoring in double figures in consecutive games at Arizona.

“He’s a scorer,” Brown said. “He can score the ball in many different ways. Y’all seen it last game and y’all seen it tonight. He can score driving, pull ups, transition 3s, get to the foul line, he can do it all.”

Speaking of consistency issues, Jordan Brown is having them

Here are his lines through the first four games:

  • vs. Grambling State: 33 minutes, 19 points, 15 rebounds, 3 blocks, 8-10 FG, 3-5 FT
  • vs. Eastern Washington: 18 minutes, 6 points, 3 rebounds, 5 turnovers, 5 fouls
  • vs. NAU: 23 minutes, 17 points, 11 rebounds, 6-6 FG, 5-5 FT
  • vs. CSUB: 16 minutes, 3 points, 2 blocks, 3 fouls, 1-3 FG, 1-2 FT

Maybe the shooting struggles were overblown?

Is this a good shooting team, a bad one, or somewhere in between? It’s hard to tell until Arizona starts playing better teams.

The Wildcats were 12 for 40 from 3 in their first two games, then 25 for 50 over the next two. Wednesday was the first time they made at least 12 3s in back-to-back games since the 2007-08 season.

They also entered the night making just 65 percent of their free throws, but then went 19 for 21 at the stripe.

Koloko finally played with confidence

Christian Koloko has been struggling this season, but turned in a great second half against the Roadrunners, with six points, three rebounds and three blocks in 13 minutes. That gave him four blocks on the night, a new career-high.

We know Koloko can swat shots and grab boards with the best of them, but he had been really disappointing offensively coming into this game, missing open mid-range jumpers and some easy looks at the rim.

One play in the second half showed how much of a force he can be on that end when he’s aggressive around the basket (though playing against an undersized frontcourt helped, too.)

The 7-footer snatched an offensive rebound over a defender, dished the ball out, got back in position to receive a dump off from Akinjo and slammed it home with authority in a defender’s face.

More of that, please!