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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Reality in Maui

Editor’s note: The Arizona men’s basketball team finished the Maui Invitational in sixth place and with a 1-2 tournament record to put its season record at 3-2. While the losses were certainly disappointing for the Wildcats, the young squad saw adversity for the first time and gave fans an idea of the challenges that lie ahead for head coach Sean Miller’s squad. Here are a few things we learned about the team after the tournament.

1) He told us so

Before the start of the season, Sean Miller made it clear he would temper his team’s expectations.

“”It’s something that can really be damaging to this year’s team,”” Miller said of Arizona’s streak of NCAA Tournament appearances. “”It’s something we can’t control.””

Despite a successful two-month recruiting binge, the head coach’s warnings couldn’t be closer to the truth through the team’s first five contests.

In Maui, the Wildcats often appeared discombobulated, as highlighted in their first loss, a 65-61 game against Wisconsin. They failed to score until six minutes had ticked off the clock.

Then there were the flashes of talent that Miller hopes will make consistent appearances at McKale Center as the season progresses. Freshman Solomon Hill scored 17 points in the team’s 84-72 loss to Vanderbilt on Wednesday and sophomore guard Brendon Lavender showed potential with a 16-point effort in a 91-87 overtime win against the Colorado Buffaloes the day prior.

Now, the team returns to Tucson with experience in its pockets and a clearer view of the difficult challenges that lie ahead.

2) Main target

Arizona basketball’s season only goes as far as senior Nic Wise takes it, and that all begins with him being the best scorer on the team. While that fact is obvious, the real challenge comes in how Sean Miller and his staff will deal with opposing defenses targeting the veteran point guard and taking him out of the game.

In the Maui Invitational, Wise scored 13 and 9 points, respectively, in the two losses while shooting a dismal 7-for-25 from the field. He dropped 30 points in the team’s single victory despite fighting through foul problems.

He saw that same problem in all three contests, committing no fewer than three fouls in each game. Opposing teams will likely look to attack Wise in one-on-one situations to put him in foul trouble, and, thus, keep his aggressiveness in check. That will force inconsistent and unproven scorers, such as Lavender and Hill, to consistently pour in the points.

Even junior Jamelle Horne, the team’s second most experienced player, has yet to become a serious scoring threat. Though he is more of an energy, do-it-all type of player, Horne will be relied upon to help out Wise even more — which he did in a 17-point outing in the team’s lone win, shooting 5-for-5 from beyond the three-point arc.

But so far, no second scoring option has arisen, and until that happens, Wise will be forced to carry the load.

3) Williams’ will

Freshman Derrick Williams’ strength and athleticism are clearly his advantages, but in Maui, the 6-foot-8, 235 pound forward/center showed that he knows how to use those attributes.

In Game 1 against Wisconsin, Williams scored 25 points, but 13 of those came from the free throw stripe. He tallied a block in each game and showed his aggressiveness on the boards, an area the undersized Wildcats have been looking to improve on early this season.

And for the first time, Miller placed Williams beside fellow freshman Kyryl Natyazhko in the frontcourt in a lineup he has been reluctant to use, saying he didn’t want to force Williams to learn two positions at one time. Williams took advantage of his increased responsibilities and played 32 minutes in each of the first two games before getting into foul trouble in the third contest against Vanderbilt.

 

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