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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Arizona men’s basketball shows resilience against Mount St. Mary’s

Keenan Turner/ The Daily Wildcat

Arizona forward Ronde Hollis-Jefferson (23) dunks the ball after a fast break during the last minute of Arizona’s 40-25 lead at the half against Mount St. Mary’s at McKale on Friday. 

For the first 15 minutes of Arizona men’s basketball lone exhibition game last Sunday, it was hard to believe this Arizona team was the No. 2 team in the nation. Despite defeating Cal Poly Pomona 67-51, the Wildcats trailed 19-12 about 15 minutes into the first half. The offense looked stagnant, the defense struggled to string together consecutive defensive stops and Sean Miller was livid.

Miller used the under eight minute media timeout to rally his guys, and the results were staggering: a 14-0 run to end the first half. And the Wildcats never looked back.

On Friday, it was nearly déjà vu back to that exhibition game just five days earlier.

Against a Mount St. Mary’s squad fresh off an NCAA tournament bid, Arizona came out of the gate almost identically to that exhibition game. Free throws were clanging off the rim, to the tune of eight misses in 12 attempts, the team had almost as many fouls (four) as assists (five) and the Wildcats had just a two point lead with 7:21 left in the first half.

Then, like the exhibition game, Arizona turned things around with a defense fueled run, this time a 12-0 run in the final 3:21 of the half. The newly renovated McKale Center crowd was absolutely rocking as the team put together back-to-back-to-back fastbreak dunks to end the first half. To say it was deafening may be an understatement. It was downright manic.

By that time, the Wildcats led 40-25 and it was almost a different team than the one that started the game at 6 p.m.

After the game, Miller tore into the team for not starting out better and avoided praising his team for fighting back toward the end of the half. Not to say that he wasn’t appreciative of his squad’s seemingly night and day performance at the end of the half, but rather, as a coach, Miller wishes his team wouldn’t have even needed a late run to control the game.

The silver lining in all of this is that this Arizona team looks like fighters, and no, not actual fighters. This team seems to have a knack for rallying around the defense and making plays when they need to be made.

Sure, it’s the first two times this team has played someone other than itself, but it’s huge to see players, who are largely unfamiliar with each other, rally as one unit. And that’s throughout the entire nine or 10 man rotation, not just the starting lineup.

Of course it starts at the top, with Miller and starting point guard T.J. McConnell being the two most vocal members of the team. We often hear the cliché of point guards being an extension of the coach on the court, but there’s no denying that’s the case on this Arizona squad.

Having McConnell and Miller on the same page not only improves the communication from the sideline to the court, it sets the example that every other Arizona player has to uphold. Or else those two are bound to let whichever player isn’t playing up to par know exactly what they’re doing wrong and how to fix it.

In essence an aura of accountability is passed down from Miller to McConnell to the rest of the roster, leading to moments where this team looks like the best in the nation.

What Miller and his staff have to work on is extending the stretches where that’s the case. If they can do that and ingrain that accountability from the opening tip-off, the sky is the limit for this Arizona men’s basketball team.

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