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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Arizona’s bench saves the day

Kyle Hansen

Arizona guard Gabe York jumps to shoot of his many field goals of the night during Arizona’s 57-47 win against UCLA in McKale Center on Saturday.

Arizona men’s basketball coach Sean Miller is one of the best coaches in the country, but even he was puzzled by Saturday’s game.

The No. 7 Wildcats (24-3, 11-2 Pac-12 conference) defeated UCLA 57-47 despite a terrible night by almost all their starters. Miller looked confused after the game and was so upset that he took off his jacket.

“Our starters basically got punched in the face to the tune of 20-0,” Miller said. “I called, I think, three timeouts to help.”

Arizona’s starters scored 30 points, but forward Stanley Johnson was 1-for-9 from the field, forward Brandon Ashley was 2-for-10 from the field, forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was 1-for-6 from the field and center Kaleb Tarczewski was limited to five points.

“It’s really almost impossible when three players that you count on like that go 4-for-25,” Miller said about Johnson, Ashley and Hollis-Jefferson. “When you look at me, it’s really a bizarre feeling.”

As poor as Arizona’s first choice players were, the reserves played as well. The Wildcat bench outscored UCLA’s 27-0. That’s even with their best offensive weapon of the night, center Dusan Ristic, only playing a minute in the second half.

“It’s really a bizarre game,” Miller said. “We won tonight because we had several players who didn’t start the game come in and contribute in massive ways.”

Lately, a different hero seems to emerge for the Wildcats every game ― a good sign, because their normal stars like Johnson and Hollis-Jefferson might have an off night like Saturday and end their march to the Final Four early.

Arizona’s bench has developed. Not too long ago, this game would have easily been a loss.

The second team features a couple shooters — one thing the first unit lacks — and Ristic, who plays more aggressively than Tarczewski, at the five. The starters are susceptible to the zone, like Saturday, when the UA shot 34 percent.

Guard Gabe York led the UA in scoring with 13 points. York has embraced the sixth man role after beginning the season as a starter and then slumping when he got benched.

“I’m really happy for Gabe, he played a lot of minutes and he deserved them tonight,” Miller said. “I thought he was a big reason we won the game.”

Ristic played even better than York, for the first half at least. The backup center scored the Wildcats’ first six points after they started the game scoreless through about six minutes.

“[Ristic] did a great job for us, and I just followed his lead,” York said.

Ristic was a perfect 4-for-4 from the field and the free-throw line to score 12 points ― even though he only played one minute in the second half.

“[York’s] the reason we won, and Dusan, in the first half, is the reason why we had that lead … it was just a good team win,” McConnell said. “It’s ugly, but a win is a win and we’ll take it.”

Miller said he limited the freshman in the second half because they had to concentrate on UCLA forward Kevon Looney, and the matchups on defense didn’t favor Ristic.

“Down the road I think he’ll be more prepared, but now I wasn’t as comfortable in that position playing him,” Miller said. “You can say ‘coach, the guy scored 12 points in 11 minutes, why didn’t he play more in the second half?’ That’s my answer, you can take it or leave it.”

If Ristic continues to emerge, Arizona will be tough to beat.


Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

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