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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Point guard, center battles heating up

Colin Darland
Colin Darland / Daily Wildcat The Arizona Wildcats men’s basketball team went head to head in its 2011 red & blue scrimmage match from McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz. on Saturday, October 22, 2011. The red squad defeated the blue squad 67 to 54. Kyryl Natyazhko 14, Angel Chol

Kyle Fogg, Jesse Perry and Solomon Hill will start for the Wildcats Thursday against Seattle Pacific and, barring injury or demotion, for the entire 2011-12 season.

But while head coach Sean Miller has his two, three and four positions covered for the long haul, he’s still searching for the right starting point guard and center.

Freshman Josiah Turner, a five-star recruit, and sophomore Jordin Mayes are duking it out for the starting point guard spot, while junior Kyryl Natyazhko and freshman Sidiki Johnson are battling to start at center.

Johnson put on a clinic at the Red-Blue Game, going 7-for-7 from the field and 2-for-2 from 3-point range for a team-high 18 points in 19 minutes. But Natyazhko didn’t disappoint either, scoring 13 points on 6-for-11 shooting while grabbing five boards, leaving the competition in a dead heat.

“We’re not at that point where one player is the clear-cut leader,” Miller said. “I think both Sidiki and Kyryl will both get heavy minutes. Who’s going to start, who’s going to play more, it’s too early to tell and it’s not clear-cut.”

The 6-foot-8, 235-pound Johnson and 6-foot-11, 275-pound Natyazhko offer completely different skill sets to a Wildcats team searching for an interior presence to replace Derrick Williams.

Natyazhko, who Hill said has the “upper hand,” gives Arizona a pick-and-pop threat with two years of experience under his belt. According to Hill, “everybody’s more understanding of his game” and Natyazhko is finally excelling where he’s comfortable.

Johnson, on the other hand, is a banger who “wants to go down there, face up, try and drive past you and be at the rim,” Hill said.

Both Johnson and Natyazhko exceeded expectations at the Red-Blue Game, and tomorrow night’s game may go a long way in deciding who has the starting edge moving forward. Miller said freshman Angelo Chol, who will back up Perry at the four, will also be able to play some center down the road.

While Johnson and Natyazhko work to land the starting center gig, Mayes and Turner continue to compete for the point guard spot.

“That position is very similar to our five right now,” Miller said. “I really believe that in the next couple of weeks that will clear up.”

Mayes is practicing at both the one and two, but with Fogg and Nick Johnson ahead of him at shooting guard, he’ll be able to contribute most at the point where he excelled in spurts last season.

Turner could get more time early, as Miller said Mayes is still a “month behind” in terms of conditioning after undergoing foot surgery in the offseason.

“When you miss in essence 10 weeks, 12 weeks, it really puts you behind,” Miller said. “And I’ve noticed Jordin, although he’s practicing every day, you can tell, I believe he’s a month away from being in the best physical shape that he can be in.”

Miller picks UCLA, Cal over UA

Despite the Wildcats’ being the highest-ranked Pac-12 team — No. 16 — in the recent ESPN preseason poll, Miller likes UCLA and Cal as the conference favorites at this point in the year.

The Bruins’ size and Cal’s experience are too much for a young and inexperienced Arizona team, Miller said.

“I wouldn’t think that we would be the favorite,” he said. “Hopefully we can compete for the championship. That’s always our goal but UCLA’s size and Cal’s experience to me trump what we have right now.”

Tree out for Thursday

Senior center Alex Jacobson has only practiced in “two or three” of Arizona’s first nine practices, according to Miller, and won’t play Thursday night due to an back injury. Jacobson missed four games with the same injury last season and has battled back issues his entire UA career.

“He has the same lower back situation that he’s had at least since I’ve come here, in that it locks up and doesn’t allow him to run,” Miller said. “There will be periods of time where he can’t practice or play and then there will be periods of time where he has no problem.”

Miller said Jacobson will most likely be available early next week and may play in Tuesday’s game against Humboldt State.

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