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The Daily Wildcat

 

Basketball Notes: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson embraces role

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Tyler Baker

Arizona forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (23) drives during Arizona’s 86-68 win against Cal State Northridge during the EA Sports Maui Invitational opening round in McKale Center on Sunday. Hollis-Jefferson and the Wildcats take on Michigan on Saturday. 

With a team this deep, Arizona men’s basketball was sure to see some players unexpectedly spend time on the bench, but Rondae Hollis-Jefferson? That wasn’t expected.

While the forward scored 14 points and had eight rebounds in 22 minutes in the 86-68 win over Cal State Northridge on Sunday and 15 points and four rebounds in 21 points in the 78-55 win over Mount St. Mary’s, he didn’t start either game.

“He was the best player on our team,” UA men’s basketball head coach Sean Miller said. “When he’s in the game, so many good things are happening. He’s playing with an incredible energy level. He does it on defense and offense.”

Not only did Hollis-Jefferson, who is projected as the 15th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft by Draft Express, say that there’s nothing wrong with coming off of the bench, he seemed to embrace the sixth-man role.

“I’m going to have the most energy in the country when it comes to giving it my all,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “Teams need that in a game, and I feel like I bring that spark every time.”

Pitts’ progress

While Hollis-Jefferson was credited with three assists on Sunday night, he had another one after the stat sheets were printed.

When guard Elliott Pitts was asked during the postgame press conference on Sunday how his defense was improving, Hollis-Jefferson intercepted the question.

“Let me answer that,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “It progressed a lot because he had to guard me.”

Pitts, who played 16 minutes on Sunday and 17 on Friday after averaging 8.4 minutes per game last year, agreed.

“I was going to say that,” Pitts said. “I mean, guarding him and [forward Stanley Johnson] and [guard] Gabe [York] in practice has definitely helped me over the summer.”

Miller praised Pitts’ defense and offense after the win over CSUN, where Pitts had a career-high 10 points. Pitts averaged 1.8 points per game last year and his previous career high was six, at Colorado.

“He plays with amazing effort,” Miller said. “He can make shots and when he’s in, it’s like with Rondae, the ball seems to move easier. The two games we’ve played so far, I thought Elliott was an ‘A’ in first game and ‘A’ in second game. I’m really pleased with him.”

Basketball and football school?

Arizona athletics did so well over the weekend that they tweeted out a photo of Oprah that said: “Arizona athletics, you get a win! 

You get a win …”

Miller opened his Sunday press conference by praising the 8-2 and No. 15 football team.

“Overall, I think it’s a great weekend here on our campus,” Miller said. “Not only with us getting two wins, but the win that our football program had [Saturday], is fantastic, and we’re excited for them and really excited to watch them over the next couple of weeks, and I think just the energy that you feel on our campus is unlike any that I’ve felt since I’ve been here because of the success that they’re having and maybe where we’re here early in the year.”

In addition to the two wins for men’s basketball and football’s victory, volleyball, soccer and swimming also won.

Hawaii comes a calling

Arizona’s trip to Hawaii next week won’t be its only trip to the 50th state. On Monday, the Wildcats will begin a span of three games in three days in the EA Sports Maui Invitational proper in Lahaina, Hawaii.

In two years, the UA will again go to Hawaii on Nov. 11, 2016 to face Michigan State in the Armed Forces Classic. The Wildcats and Spartans will face off in a double-header at the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam along with Indiana and Kansas.

The 2016 Veterans Day game will take place a few weeks before the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The USS Arizona was sunk at Pearl Harbor when the United States’ involvement in World War II began.

Three Wildcats on preseason Wooden award list

On Monday, the Los Angeles Athletic Club announced that Hollis-Jefferson, forward Brandon Ashley and Johnson are members of the John R. Wooden Award Preseason Top-50.

Arizona, Kansas and Kentucky are the only teams that had three or more players on the national player of the year watch list. The UA had three of the Pac-12’s seven players on the list.

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Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

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