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When the Arizona Wildcats held a running vertical leap test Thursday, athletic freshman Kobi Simmons literally lived up to his reputation.

He cleared 45 inches, just shy of Nick Johnson\u2019s 47-inch Miller-era record.

\u201cI hadn\u2019t done it in a while but I think some of the team knew,\u201d Simmons said.

\u201cWhen it was my time to go, everyone crowded around with video recorders. Everyone knew (what I could do) and they were just, you know, blown away.\u201d

That wasn\u2019t the only victory in the competition. The other was that Ray Smith hit 40 inches, the same height he reached a year ago before he blew out his second ACL.

Smith said he felt his athleticism has returned to \u201c100 percent\u201d while noting his vertical leap result and said \u201cit\u2019s only going to get better as time goes on.\u201d

Smith also said putting muscle on has added stability.

\u201cIt\u2019s how quick I move and get to different places without pushing,\u201d he said.

Smith has already joined the Wildcats for five-on-five drills and said he was leaving tonight for Las Vegas, where his hometown doctor will examine him. If the result is satisfactory, Smith will join the Wildcats fully when official practices begin Sunday.

We had a longer look at Smith, and what he's learned during his two rehabs, in this story.


Arizona is loaded with wings and has plenty of upside up front. But who's gonna be the point guard?

Miller said again Thursday that Kadeem Allen has been moved primarily off the ball, leaving Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Simmons to battle for the job.

They could also share it, or even play together when Simmons moves to the two.

\u201cIt\u2019s not an either-or relationship, meaning one is in when the other comes out,\u201d Miller said. \u201cThose guys will play a lot together. For me and our staff the challenge always is to put your best team, your deepest group out there.\u201d

Miller said Jackson-Cartwright is \u201cExhibit A\u201d of the guys who came back hungrier after the first-round loss to Wichita State and has experience that could help.

\u201cThere\u2019s nothing like experience in coming back for your third year,\u201d Miller said. \u201cI think that some of the things that Parker has learned as a freshman and sophomore he\u2019ll implement this year. I\u2019m really excited about watching him play.\u201d

Simmons said he\u2019s been getting used to the UA system and focusing on defense, and was unsure at which guard spot he expects to play the most.

\u201cWherever coach wants me to play, what he thinks will get us the win,\u201d Simmons said.


One of the buzzwords used by several UA players Thursday was going \u201cpositionless,\u201d considering the number of versatile players they have on the wings and in the post.

Freshman Rawle Alkins appears to have potential to be just that, with the athleticism and strength to play anywhere from shooting guard to power forward, though Miller said he wasn\u2019t sure if Alkins would play power forward right away.

\u201cThat may be something we learn as we get into real practice here,\u201d Miller said. \u201cRawle is a small forward. He\u2019s a tremendous offensive rebounder. Physically strong.

\u201cHe has done everything that we\u2019ve asked him to do. He\u2019s done a good job in the classroom. Has done a good job in the weight room. And has had the attitude you want to see with an incoming freshman. He doesn\u2019t come to you with all the answers. He really comes to learn and work hard. He loves the game.

\u201cIn our practices you can start to see a few things but him being able to make plays at the basket and being an unselfish passer, is something that really stands out watching him early on.\u201d


Arizona's five-star freshmen (Alkins, Simmons and Lauri Markkanen) have allowed juco transfer Keanu Pinder to fly under the publicity radar so far.

But since UA is now without the 19 combined rebounds that Kaleb Tarczewski and Ryan Anderson averaged last season, Pinder may work his way into the rotation.

\u201cKeanu sometimes is the forgotten man because he came from Hutchinson (Kan.) junior college,\" Miller said. \"But one thing that stands out about Keanu is he has a gift (for rebounding) \u2013 an explosion to the ball and a hunger to go get it.

\"He doesn\u2019t do it because he\u2019s 6-11. He does it because he\u2019s tough-minded and very, very physical. He also has incredible quickness defensively. So when you talk about depth, about players competing, he\u2019s somebody who\u2019s in the mix because he gives us what we really lost from last year\u2019s team.\u201d


Over the summer, Miller found a silver lining in all the buzz over the sweat-soaked shirt he wore during UA\u2019s loss to Wichita State in last season\u2019s NCAA tournament.

\u201cIt used to be the Johnny Carson show,\u201d Miller said, referring to his childhood appearance on the Tonight Show as a ball-trick prodigy (video attached), which he dislikes rehashing. \u201cThe good news is they don\u2019t talk to me about that anymore. It\u2019s some sort of sweat joke or whatever.\u201d

Miller kidded that \u201cwe\u2019re gonna launch a huge advertising\u201d campaign about the T-shirt company he will endorse \u2013 he did, seriously, receive a ton of freebies \u2013 and said he \u201clearned his lesson\u201d after trying a new lightweight shirt he hadn\u2019t worn before.

\u201cWhere I erred is I tried out a new shirt that I\u2019d never worn before,\u201d Miller said. \u201cI wasn\u2019t sick. It wasn\u2019t like I sweated any more than I usually do. It\u2019s just when there\u2019s less material, it was a disaster. \u2026 I can\u2019t take that one back.\u201d

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In Tucson, Miller Time has nothing to do with Happy Hour or a cold beer.

Miller Time means that UA basketball coach Sean Miller has scheduled a press conference at 2:15 Thursday afternoon in Room 106A at McKale Center. Miller Time means that if you want a seat in the claustrophobic setting that wasn\u2019t touched by any of the mega-millions spent refurbishing the building, you must arrive by 2.

Or maybe 1:55, because at 2, only one seat remains vacant. That seat is quickly occupied by Brian Jeffries, the Voice of the Wildcats. John Marshall, who is one of The Associated Press\u2019 most widely circulated college basketball reporters, arrives from Phoenix at 2:15.

Marshall stands for the next 51 minutes and 39 seconds, as Miller delivers the much-anticipated State of the Wildcats report, which is probably a record for any coach in college basketball.

No one else in Tucson could pull this off. Not the mayor, not the chief of police, not Jim Click.

Miller is a superior public speaker. He\u2019s like an artful copy editor, eliminating the fluff, pruning everything but the meat of the story.

At Arizona, there is a lot of meat to the 2016-17 basketball story, and on Thursday it took Miller 51 minutes and 39 seconds to get to all of it. Ordinarily, anyone talking 51 minutes and 39 seconds about anything should not be spared a copy editor\u2019s snipping.

But Miller pulled it off; he fielded 27 questions. This is how it played out in five easy pieces:

1. Freshman Lauri Markkanen, a 7-footer from Finland, is not going to be pushed around nor need significant break-in time. \u201cHe\u2019s ahead of the game right now,\u201d said Miller.

2. Freshman guard Kobi Simmons will hit an open jumper, and even a few when he\u2019s not open. \u201cWhether he plays (point guard or off guard), he\u2019ll be a big asset for us,\u201d said Miller.

3. Do not write off sophomore center Chance Comanche as a long-range prospect. \u201cHe\u2019s as talented as anyone in our program,\u201d the coach said.

4. Sophomore wing Allonzo Trier is the walking definition of \u201cgym rat.\u201d \u201cI think he\u2019ll be one of the best guards in the country,\u201d said Miller.

5. Junior center Dusan Ristic, who worked out with boxers over the summer, has been a revelation. \u201cHe\u2019ll be the best version of himself,\u201d said Miller. \u201cYou\u2019ll see.\u201d

It is 42 days until Arizona plays a game that counts \u2014 against Michigan State in Hawaii \u2014 but that\u2019s misleading. The clock is already ticking. For Miller, it rarely stops.

Miller will turn 48 a few days before Thanksgiving, and he said he\u2019s \u201cvery refreshed.\u201d That sort of talk belies his schedule.

At 48, Duke\u2019s Mike Krzyzewski conked out. He coached just 12 games of the 1994-95 schedule before stepping away to catch his breath for the rest of the year. The burning sense of obligation to be No. 1 beat him up.

It makes you wonder how long Miller, or any college basketball coach, can continue the pace. The Wildcats recruited the nation\u2019s No. 5 Class of 2016 according to Rivals.com, and are currently ranked No. 3 by the same people.

\u201cIf you\u2019re trying to go after the top prize, the highest level of college basketball, recruiting is an obsession,\u201d Miller said. \u201cIt is at a level that nobody has ever done before, that\u2019s why it\u2019s so hard to compare generations. No one has ever done this.\u201d

UA freshman small forward Rawle Alkins, who is from New York City, said that Miller\u2019s coaching and recruiting intensity \u201camazes me.\u201d

\u201cArizona wasn\u2019t even on my list,\u201d he said Thursday. \u201cThen Coach Miller flew to Detroit to watch me in the middle of last season, and he really stepped it up. He literally wouldn\u2019t give up. I came out here to watch the game against Oregon, when (Arizona) was going for 50 straight home victories, and everybody treated it like the end of the world.

\u201cI wanted to be part of that type of purpose.\u201d

That purpose is seen in Miller\u2019s approach to the Oct. 14 Red and Blue Game.

Most Tucsonans would say the yearly home game against UCLA, or someone at the top of the Pac-12, would be the most anticipated game of the year. Miller has an addition: the Red-Blue Game is almost as important.

\u201cFrom a recruiting standpoint, it\u2019s arguably the biggest week we\u2019ve had during my time as coach at Arizona,\u201d said Miller.

By my unofficial count, Miller has offered scholarships to 36 players from the Class of 2017. One of those, 7-foot DeAndre Ayton of Hillcrest Academy in Phoenix, considered by some the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2017, has already chosen to play for Arizona.

If Miller and his staff are fortunate, aided by the Red-Blue Game and attendant festivities, they could crank out the nation\u2019s No. 1 recruiting class by November. Or something close.

Arizona begins full practice Sunday. It\u2019s almost like a break for the coaches.

\u201cIn September, recruiting is all day, every day, from start to finish,\u201d Miller said. \u201cIt\u2019s all day, every day, start to finish in April. It\u2019s all day, every day, start to finish in July and August. The thing is, it\u2019s relentless. And it doesn\u2019t mean you\u2019re going to do well, either. That\u2019s just what you do to have a chance.\u201d

On the last day of September, Arizona has a chance.

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Two years away from the basketball court, and Arizona\u2019s Ray Smith has already turned into something of a part-doctor. A part-athletic trainer. Part-psychologist.

And maybe even part-coach.

\u201cI feel like I\u2019m a lot of people right now,\u201d Smith said.

That much was clear Thursday, when the Wildcats\u2019 redshirt freshman forward discussed his two ACL rehabilitations at Arizona\u2019s annual preseason media day.

It was also clear in how Smith has already helped graduate transfer forward Talbott Denny deal with his recently torn ACL, which will keep the Lipscomb transfer out this season.

\u201cIt\u2019s definitely kind of made me feel a little better,\u201d Denny said. \u201cBecause in the beginning I was just thinking, \u2018Man, ACL\u2019s like a death wish for a basketball player.\u2019 At least having somebody talk you through it with his experience is kind of nice.\u201d

Smith flew home to Las Vegas on Thursday night to be examined by his hometown doctor. If he gets the OK, Smith will join the Wildcats fully when they open full-length preseason practices on Sunday.

Here was Smith on psychology:

\u201cA lot of mental problems with ACL tears is that people don\u2019t trust their leg and what they tend to do is baby it, and they\u2019ll hurt themselves,\u201d said Smith, who tore his second ACL in practice 11 months ago. \u201cI\u2019ve done things so hard that just being on the court is not even the scariest thing. It\u2019s not one bit of scary.\u201d

Smith on the science of ACL tears:

\u201cIt could have been just plan genetics,\u201d Smith said of his own injuries, then later added: \u201cWhen you tear one ACL, your body naturally favors a leg, so when you put all your pressure on the opposite leg and bang, you (hurt) it just like that. It\u2019s crazy.\u201d

And Smith on coaching, or what he learned about it while sitting on the bench the past two seasons:

\u201cBeing able to see the game at a level that many freshmen don\u2019t get to see ... (shows) how important the little things are,\u201d Smith said. \u201cThere\u2019s things I have to work on, but there\u2019s a sense of defensive schemes and tasks I feel like I have that in my back pocket just because of what I\u2019ve been watching all year. For the most part, there aren\u2019t any things coach (Sean) Miller has to get on me about.\u201d

That\u2019s already been the case. Miller said again Thursday that Smith has done \u201ceverything we\u2019ve asked of him\u201d in rehabilitating the knees, both when Smith was rehabbing the first one in Las Vegas as a UA signee and last season when he dealt with the second one at the UA.

He\u2019s strengthened his legs. Strengthened his upper body. Gone through offseason skills training. Run the team mile race. And prepared for the much different responsibilities of small and power forward that he\u2019ll have this season.

There\u2019s only been one difference between Smith and his coaches.

\u201cI think there\u2019s almost a tug-of-war right now,\u201d Miller said, \u201cwith us holding him back some and clearly Ray wants to be treated like everyone else.\u201d

On that one, Smith has no choice. He\u2019s already been cleared for and participated in some five-on-five drills \u2014 Miller said this weekend\u2019s doctor visit is part of a \u201cprocedural\u201d approach \u2014 but coaches have kept him from some drills and will continue to do so.

\u201cHe\u2019s like everybody else, but we\u2019re going to be well aware of when he gets fatigued,\u201d Miller said. \u201cThat\u2019s when he\u2019s at the most risk early on, and we\u2019ll pull him. Sometimes his practice days will be shorter.\u201d

In other words, nobody wants to see it happen again. But Smith didn\u2019t sound like the sort of guy who was worried about that.

He didn\u2019t get there immediately, though. Smith said his first dunk attempt a few months ago \u201cfelt like a struggle,\u201d and disagreed when it was suggested his confidence never left him.

\u201cThat\u2019s actually funny,\u201d he said. \u201cMy confidence definitely left me. These last three, four months have been tough for me. Being a confident kid and coming back (but) can\u2019t make a 15-foot jumper or can\u2019t really dunk, you know what I mean?

\u201cBut I\u2019ve really gotten a boost of confidence over the last two weeks. I\u2019m turning into my old self, I feel.\u201d

Now, Smith said he can \u201cget up and dunk, plant, twist, turn\u201d without thinking about it, and he found Thursday his athleticism may be all the way back too: Smith said he recorded a 40-inch running vertical jump, the exact height he reached a year ago.

Though it\u2019s early, Smith is on track to become one of the still relatively rare high-level athletes to return fully from two ACL tears.

Of course, in all that study time he\u2019s had over the past few years, Smith has learned of athletes who have returned from ACL tears, sometimes even two.

\u201cI wouldn\u2019t say it\u2019s motivation, but it\u2019s a sense of \u2018I\u2019m happy for them, I\u2019m happy they got through it,\u2019\u201d Smith said. \u201cNow it\u2019s my turn.\u201d

Rim shots

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For a long time, recruiting in Southern California went something like this:

USC gets whichever players it wants. UCLA is up next.

The Arizona Wildcats battle everyone else for whoever is left.

Since Rich Rodriguez was hired in 2012, though, the Wildcats have made a more concerted effort to recruit Southern California. With cornerbacks coach Donte Williams and defensive coordinator Marcel Yates on board, the UA is making even deeper inroads.

Eleven Southern California players have committed to the Wildcats\u2019 2017 recruiting class. The latest, two-star defensive lineman Austin Faoliu from Santa Ana\u2019s Mater Dei High School, verbally committed Wednesday. Arizona has already reeled in four-star athlete Greg Johnson from Los Angeles\u2019 Augustus Hawkins High School and four-star running back Nathan Tilford of Ontario Colony, and has convinced safety Rhedi Short \u2014 a three-star prospect from Los Angeles Cathedral \u2014 to flip on his commitment to UCLA.

UA coaches will spend the next few months convincing three more SoCals \u2014 wide receiver Joseph Lewis and cornerbacks Thomas Graham and Darnay Holmes \u2014 to choose the Wildcats over the Bruins.

Times are changing.

\u201cThey\u2019re going to get their fair share,\u201d Rodriguez said. \u201cAs I always tell the staff, there\u2019s players everywhere. From a recruiting standpoint, I feel real good about where we\u2019re at and the guys that we\u2019re getting, whether USC, UCLA or anybody else is recruiting them. I like where we\u2019re at, and I\u2019m pretty excited about what the next few years are going to look like for us.\u201d

Here\u2019s a look at the eight best recruiting battles between UCLA and Arizona over the last decade. See who won:

Brett Hundley (2011)

Position: Quarterback

From: Chandler

Recruiting ranking (Scout.com): Five stars, No. 3 QB in the country

Winner: UCLA. Hundley was from Arizona, and his father went to the UA, but the Mike Stoops regime instead chose to pursue Daxx Garman from Southlake, Texas. Arizona didn\u2019t even recruit Hundley\u2019s high school teammate, running back Paul Perkins, who wound up a standout at UCLA.

Did he pan out?: Absolutely. Hundley had a stellar career, went 3-0 against Arizona and was drafted by the Green Bay Packers.

Rob Golden (2008)

Position: Cornerback

From: Fresno, California

Recruiting ranking: Five stars, No. 4 CB in the country

Winner: Arizona. Golden might have been the biggest recruiting coup of Stoops\u2019 tenure.

Golden committed to the UA early, then decommitted and considered UCLA before ultimately returning to the Wildcats.

Did he pan out? Golden had 183 tackles, four interceptions and two touchdowns in four years. He signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers after going undrafted in 2012 and has since carved out a nice NFL career. Golden is a co-captain this season.

Devin Fuller (2012)

Position: Quarterback

From: Old Tappan, N.J.

Recruiting ranking: Four stars, No. 3 QB in the country

Winner: UCLA. Rodriguez made Fuller a priority shortly after being hired, but the quarterback ultimately picked Westwood over Tucson.

Fuller cited family reasons: His uncle, the comedian Sinbad, lived near UCLA\u2019s campus.

Did he pan out? UCLA coach Jim Mora moved Fuller to receiver, and the speedster became a downfield threat. The Atlanta Falcons took Fuller in the seventh round of this year\u2019s draft.

Marquis Flowers (2010)

Position: Safety

From: Goodyear

Recruiting ranking: Four stars, No. 23 safety in the country

Winner: Arizona. Flowers picked the Wildcats over UCLA and USC, among others. Flowers was the state\u2019s second-highest rated recruit in 2010.

Did he pan out? Flowers took off after moving to linebacker in 2012, amassing 100 tackles in 2012 and 94 in 2013. He is in his third season with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Rahim Moore (2008)

Position: Safety

From: Los Angeles

Recruiting ranking: Five stars, No. 2 safety in the country

Winner: UCLA. Moore committed to UCLA early but still took a visit to Arizona and told Scout.com it was \u201camazing\u201d and the campus \u201cwas great.\u201d Moore ultimately signed with the Bruins.

Did he pan out?: Without question. He led the nation in interceptions in 2009 and was an All-American. He played five years with the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans.

Shaq Richardson (2010)

Position: Cornerback

From: Los Alamitos, California

Recruiting ranking: Three stars, No. 27 cornerback in the country

Winner: Both? Richardson initially signed with UCLA but was kicked off the team following an arrest. He ultimately transferred to the UA.

Did he pan out? Richardson contributed for four years, registering 186 tackles and intercepting nine passes. The Steelers picked Richardson in the fifth round of the 2014 draft.

Devon Modster (2016)

Position: Quarterback

From: Las Flores, California

Recruiting ranking: Four stars

Winner: UCLA. Modster verbally committed to the Wildcats in the summer before his senior season but flipped to UCLA close to signing day.

Did he pan out? TBA: Modster is redshirting his freshman season in Westwood.

DaVonte\u2019 Neal (2012)

Position: Wide receiver/cornerback

From: Scottsdale

Recruiting ranking: Five stars, No. 1 cornerback in Arizona

Who won: Arizona \u2026 sort of. Neal went to Notre Dame out of high school but lasted just a year before leaving. Neal planned to transfer to UCLA before Rodriguez and the Wildcats swooped in.

Did he pan out? The five-star rating suggests Neal should have been a star. He has struggled with the Wildcats, though he has made progress since moving to cornerback last year.

OTHERS

RB Pierre Cormier (2013, four stars, to Arizona), OL Keenan Walker (2015, four stars, to Arizona), DL Brian Price (2007, four stars, to UCLA), LB Eric Kendricks (2010, three stars, to UCLA), LB Jamardre Cobb (2014, four stars, to Arizona), DB Brandon Burton (2016, four stars, to UCLA), RB Jordon James (2010, four stars, to UCLA.)

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Arizona Wildcats tailback Nick Wilson is questionable for Saturday\u2019s game against UCLA because of an ankle injury.

This is the second week in a row that Wilson has been listed as questionable. He sat out against Washington last Saturday after getting hurt in the first quarter the previous week against Hawaii.

The situation at running back became somewhat dire when Wilson\u2019s replacement, freshman J.J. Taylor, suffered a broken ankle against UW that will sideline him indefinitely. Arizona has given receiver Samajie Grant some reps at tailback this week to provide reinforcements. Zach Green and Tyrell Johnson likely will comprise the top pairing if Wilson can\u2019t play.

In something of a surprising development, quarterback Anu Solomon (knee) is listed as out. Solomon had been questionable each of the past three weeks.

Solomon did not suffer a setback in his recovery from the knee injury he suffered Sept. 7. But with a limited travel roster for a conference road game \u2013 and Solomon net yet fully practicing \u2013 Arizona decided to declare him out. Brandon Dawkins will make his fourth straight start.

Several other players who were out or got hurt last week won\u2019t play against UCLA. They include linebacker DeAndre\u2019 Miller (ankle), nose tackle Parker Zellers (knee) and receiver Shawn Poindexter (foot).

Safety Tellas Jones (ankle) is listed as probable for the second week in a row. He dressed and warmed up against Washington but did not play.

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When Kalei Mau injured her back nearly two weeks ago, the Arizona Wildcats lost their top outside hitter and most powerful offensive player.

The Wildcats haven\u2019t lost their way, though. Kendra Dahlke and Katarina Pilepic have stepped up in Mau\u2019s absence.

Dahlke enters this week\u2019s matches with Oregon State and Oregon ranked third in the Pac-12 with 4.08 kills per set. She led the Wildcats with 22 kills in a four-set victory over rival Arizona State last week.

\u201cKendra in particular has really developed more than what I thought she might have, especially going from her freshman to her sophomore year,\u201d coach Dave Rubio said. \u201cI\u2019ve never seen a player who has committed herself to the physical aspects of getting better as she had during the summer. And as a result, she\u2019s been able to really put some really good, solid numbers up.\u201d

Dahlke said it is exciting to play an expanded role, though she tries not to get wrapped up in the stats.

\u201cI\u2019m always prepared to step up in that role,\u201d Dahlke said. \u201cComing in and being able to play and being able to make an impact has meant a lot and it\u2019s exciting.\u201d

Arizona will need both Dahlke and Pilepic this weekend. Oregon is ranked No. 21, has a 9-2 overall record and is 2-0 in Pac-12 play. Oregon State is 7-6 overall and 0-2 in the league.

Pilepic, a Croatian-born senior transfer from the University of San Francisco, was injured in fall camp and missed the first week of the regular season. Pilepic has been solid since returning: She had 17 kills in Sunday\u2019s loss at No. 16 Colorado.

The Wildcats are hoping they can learn from the loss. The team\u2019s execution \u201cjust wasn\u2019t there in Game 5,\u201d which the UA lost 15-9, Rubio said.

\u201cOpportunities like that, we need to take advantage of those opportunities and so far,\u201d he said. \u201cWe\u2019re 0-2 in Game 5 and we need to be better, (we need to) be able to execute in those pressurized situations.\u201d

Arizona struggled in that department a year ago. The Wildcats won just two of their 13 matches against ranked opponents. Eight of those 11 losses went to at least four sets. The Wildcats lost to No. 2 Texas and No. 8 Stanford in five sets.

With Oregon State and Oregon coming into town this weekend, the Wildcats must be poised and ready for pressurized situations. Rubio believes the Ducks, who Arizona faces Saturday at 6 p.m., are \u201ca Final Four-level team.\u201d

\u201cI think they\u2019re a team that is destined to be in that position,\u201d he said. \u201cIf you look at their numbers, they\u2019re offensively one of the top teams in the country.\u201d

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Is the Arizona Wildcats\u2019 defense markedly better than last year\u2019s version? Some key indicators would suggest it is.

For starters, Arizona is allowing 25.5 points per game a third of the way through the season \u2014 down from 35.7 in 2015. The Wildcats also are averaging 2.25 takeaways per game, up from 1.23 last season.

But in another critical area, Arizona actually has become worse. And it\u2019s a growing source of frustration for Rich Rodriguez and his staff entering Saturday\u2019s game at UCLA.

The Wildcats rank last in the Pac-12 and 122nd in the nation in third-down defense. Opponents are converting 50.9 percent of their third-down opportunities against the UA. They were at 45.9 percent last year.

\u201cThat\u2019s a concern, and that\u2019s one reason we\u2019re not getting three-and-outs,\u201d Rodriguez said Wednesday. Arizona\u2019s defense has recorded only four three-and-outs in four games.

\u201cWe definitely have to get off the field quicker,\u201d Rodriguez added, \u201cbecause we\u2019re letting teams control the tempo too much.\u201d

The defense\u2019s inability to get off the field is having a detrimental effect on the offense. It\u2019s impossible to establish a rhythm when you don\u2019t have the ball. It doesn\u2019t help that Arizona\u2019s offense is also last in the conference in third-down conversion percentage (37.7) and next-to-last in fourth-down percentage (37.5).

But one issue at a time. The focus here is on the Wildcats\u2019 third-down defense problem \u2014 which might actually be a first- and second-down defense problem.

A deeper dive into the numbers reveals nearly half of opponents\u2019 successful third-down conversions have come on plays of third-and-3 or shorter.

Teams are gaining first downs 73.7 percent of the time in those situations. When it\u2019s third-and-4 or longer, they\u2019re converting at a 39.5 percent rate.

\u201cWe need to be in third-and-medium and third-and-long to help us out a little bit,\u201d defensive coordinator Marcel Yates said. \u201cBut we\u2019ll get it fixed.\u201d

Opinions vary on how to achieve that common goal.

Cornerback Dane Cruikshank said winning on third down \u201ccomes from the heart.\u201d

\u201cYou\u2019ve just got to want it more than them,\u201d he said. \u201cWe\u2019ve got to bring the intensity.\u201d

Defensive lineman Sani Fuimaono said it\u2019s simply a matter of getting off blocks and getting to the ball-carrier.

\u201cIf everyone just does their job,\u201d he said, \u201cI think we\u2019ll be fine.\u201d

Linebacker Paul Magloire Jr. said it\u2019s about \u201cexecuting more finely.\u201d

\u201cWe\u2019ve been a hair away on some things,\u201d he said. \u201cIt\u2019s not too late to get things going and pick it up.\u201d

The Arizona defense actually had its best performance on third down last week against Washington. The Huskies converted only 5 of 12 third downs and were just 1 of 4 in the fourth quarter and overtime. The lone conversion? Jake Browning\u2019s winning touchdown pass to Dante Pettis on third-and-goal from the 4 in overtime.

From film to field

Cruikshank has prototypical measurements for a cornerback: He\u2019s 6-foot-1, 204 pounds, and can rush the 40-yard dash in less than 4.5 seconds.

But Cruikshank is learning that there\u2019s more to success in big-time college football than being big and fast.

More intense film study has helped the redshirt junior improve steadily since the start of the season. The JC transfer, playing Division I football for the first time, recorded his first career interception against Washington.

\u201cI\u2019ve always been good at watching film, but now I\u2019m starting to see key things when I\u2019m watching it,\u201d Cruikshank said. \u201cIt\u2019s just experience.\u201d

Cruikshank is spending more time studying offensive formations and route combinations. For example, when a running back swings out wide, the receiver on that side is more likely to run an inside route.

\u201cAs a young pup, I wasn\u2019t really watching things like that,\u201d Cruikshank said. \u201cI feel like at this level everybody\u2019s very, very good. So I\u2019ve got to do things that will separate (me) from everybody else.\u201d

Cruikshank is from Chino Hills, California, and about 50 of his family members and friends will attend Saturday night\u2019s game at the Rose Bowl.

Extra points

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When the Arizona Wildcats hold their annual preseason media day Thursday, they might expose more new than old.

Like the seven new players on Arizona\u2019s 14-man roster, comprising the Wildcats\u2019 latest top-five recruiting class.

Like the rededicated Allonzo Trier, who spurned the 2016 NBA draft to return as a sophomore. The replanted Kadeem Allen, who is expected to move off the ball after spending last season mostly as the starting point guard.

And, among other new-look returnees, there\u2019s the passionate Dusan Ristic coming off a summer of boxing and various other workouts, along with the upside-laden Chance Comanche, whose late-season play off the bench as a freshman last season generated some NBA draft buzz.

Also new: Both ACLs belonging to forward Ray Smith, who is expected to be cleared this preseason after a two-year ordeal with knee injuries in 2014 and 2015. (And there\u2019s the just-repaired ACL of Tucson native Talbott Denny, a grad forward who will sit out this season after transferring from Lipscomb.)

The Wildcats have something new to cover it all up, too: UA is scheduled to wear new USA Basketball-inspired uniforms, although they are not expected to make it to town in time for the cameras Thursday.

Arizona had hoped its players could wear the new gear on media day but Ryan Reynolds, UA\u2019s director of basketball operations, said the uniforms might not arrive until next week.

When they do show up, the Wildcats\u2019 uniforms are scheduled to feature the cut \u2014 though not necessarily the look \u2014 that USA players wore during the Rio Olympics last month. USA\u2019s uniforms included a V-cut neckline and short V-shaped cutout on the sides of the shorts, along with mesh features and some subtle accents.

Reynolds said UA\u2019s new uniforms won\u2019t feature stripes but will carry the traditional \u201cCATS\u201d lettering along the bottom of the shorts.

\u201cI think a lot of the Nike schools are getting a new style of jersey based on what Team USA was wearing, and that\u2019s what we have going on,\u201d Reynolds said.

The uniforms will be the first permanently redesigned ones since the beginning of the 2014-15 season, when Arizona introduced a design that incorporated both new and traditional features, while the Wildcats previously changed their look in the middle of the 2010-11 season.

The standard uniform sets will come, as usual, in home whites and a choice of red or blue for road games, while UA will also likely have one or two special-occasion uniforms as it has in recent seasons.

Just getting into a game uniform of any type will be a long time coming for Smith, who missed his senior year at Las Vegas High School with a torn left ACL \u2014 then, just days after playing in last season\u2019s Red-Blue Game, he tore the right ACL in practice and missed last season, too.

Smith has been practicing with the Wildcats during the offseason except in contact drills, and UA coach Sean Miller said last month Smith has had no setbacks and been \u201cincredibly diligent with both rehabs.\u201d

Miller also said last month he expected Smith would be cleared to practice fully around the time that the Wildcats open full-length preseason practices Sunday.

\u201cOur plan is let\u2019s be as smart as we can,\u201d Miller said. \u201cWe\u2019re in this for the long haul. \u2026 He\u2019s been hit with quite a bit of adversity but we\u2019re optimistic he can make a full recovery.\u201d

The Wildcats actually had something of a \u201cfull\u201d practice Tuesday, using all in one shot the entire two-hour weekly allotment that teams are allowed before regular practices can begin 42 days before their season opener.

Since the Wildcats will open the season on Nov. 11 against Michigan State in Honolulu, they are eligible to start full-length practices on Friday but they won\u2019t hold one until Sunday.

Teams are only allowed a total of 30 practices in the 42-day span and, since UA\u2019s Oct. 14 Red-Blue Game and exhibitions against the College of Idaho (Nov. 1) and Chico State (Nov. 6) count toward the 30 workouts, the Wildcats are opting to spread them out early on.

"}, {"id":"139b4816-85c6-11e6-86d5-af6df0b3d910","type":"article","starttime":"1475100000","starttime_iso8601":"2016-09-28T15:00:00-07:00","lastupdated":"1475187229","priority":40,"sections":[{"blog":"sports/arizonawildcats/football/blog"}],"application":"editorial","title":"Arizona Wildcats get verbal commitment from DL Austin Faoliu","url":"http://tucson.com/sports/arizonawildcats/football/blog/article_139b4816-85c6-11e6-86d5-af6df0b3d910.html","permalink":"http://tucson.com/sports/arizonawildcats/football/blog/arizona-wildcats-get-verbal-commitment-from-dl-austin-faoliu/article_139b4816-85c6-11e6-86d5-af6df0b3d910.html","canonical":"http://tucson.com/sports/arizonawildcats/football/blog/arizona-wildcats-get-verbal-commitment-from-dl-austin-faoliu/article_139b4816-85c6-11e6-86d5-af6df0b3d910.html","relatedAssetCounts":{"article":3,"audio":0,"image":1,"link":0,"vmix":0,"youtube":0,"gallery":0},"byline":"By Michael Lev\nArizona Daily Star","prologue":"The lineman from Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, California, is the UA's 27th pledge for the class of 2017.","supportsComments":true,"commentCount":0,"keywords":["arizona wildcats football recruiting"],"internalKeywords":["#latest","#toptwo","#editorspick"],"customProperties":{},"images":[{"id":"3e32acc2-2989-5828-9d72-3aa0be6803a4","description":"","byline":"","versions":{"full":{"type":"image/jpeg","width":"620","height":"516","url":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/3/e3/3e32acc2-2989-5828-9d72-3aa0be6803a4/57ec44e7c7dd4.image.jpg?resize=620%2C516"},"100": {"type":"image/jpeg","width":"100","height":"83","url":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/3/e3/3e32acc2-2989-5828-9d72-3aa0be6803a4/56abbc462e10e.preview-100.jpg"},"300": {"type":"image/jpeg","width":"300","height":"168","url":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/3/e3/3e32acc2-2989-5828-9d72-3aa0be6803a4/57ec44e7c7dd4.image.jpg?crop=620%2C348%2C0%2C71&resize=300%2C168&order=crop%2Cresize"},"1024":{"type":"image/jpeg","width":"1024","height":"575","url":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/3/e3/3e32acc2-2989-5828-9d72-3aa0be6803a4/57ec44e7c7dd4.image.jpg?crop=620%2C348%2C0%2C71"}}}],"revision":4,"commentID":"139b4816-85c6-11e6-86d5-af6df0b3d910","body":"

The Arizona Wildcats are headed to Southern California this weekend, but they earned a victory there before boarding the team plane.

The UA secured a verbal commitment from defensive lineman Austin Faoliu of Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, California. Faoliu is the Wildcats\u2019 27th commitment for the class of 2017 and fourth interior defensive lineman \u2013 a major area of need.

Scout ranks Faoliu as a two-star prospect as an offensive guard and lists him at 6-3, 265 pounds. Rivals also gives him two stars as a defensive tackle and lists him at 6-4, 295.

Faoliu tweeted the news Wednesday afternoon. In the preamble to his commitment, he wrote the following:

\u201cI want to start off by thanking God for all the opportunities he has blessed me with, because I couldn\u2019t have done it without him giving me the strength and motivation to stay dedicated. I also want to thank all the coaches that believed in me to get the job done on (their) team; it means a lot. Last but not least, all this wouldn\u2019t be possible if it wasn\u2019t for my family and friends supporting me through my journey.\u201d

#BEARDOWN\ud83d\udd34\ud83d\udd35\ud83d\udc3b\u2b07\ufe0f pic.twitter.com/RCGUQovVRP

\u2014 Austin Faoliu (@Faoliu_10) September 28, 2016
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Quick hitters from the Arizona Wildcats\u2019 post-practice media availability Wednesday morning:

* UA defensive coordinator Marcel Yates said he has simplified the scheme a bit recently to improve communication. Players are still getting used to his defense.

* Coach Rich Rodriguez said it's easier to make in-game adjustments on offense because everyone has grown up in the same system. It\u2019s been harder on defense, where everyone is still learning.

*\u00a0Improving third-down defense is a big theme for Arizona this week. I'll explore that topic a little more in depth later today.

*\u00a0Arizona didn\u2019t experiment with any more new running backs today, Rodriguez said. Receiver Samajie Grant continued to take reps there. It\u2019s still possible Nick Wilson could play against UCLA. The overall RB situation is TBD.

*\u00a0Quarterback Anu Solomon had a sleeve and brace on his injured left knee as he walked from the practice field to the locker room. He has missed the past three games.

*\u00a0Rodriguez likes what he has seen from cornerback Dane Cruikshank, who has gotten better each week (including his first career interception vs. Washington). Cruikshank is a junior-college transfer but is still relatively inexperienced.

*\u00a0Rodriguez said Arizona\u2019s four-game losing streak against UCLA and recent blowout losses to the Bruins don\u2019t matter, or at least they shouldn\u2019t. \"What happened last year is completely irrelevant,\" Rodriguez said.

*\u00a0UCLA will be Arizona's first road game, but Rodriguez believes the UA\u2019s \"semi-road\" opener vs. BYU in Glendale has prepped the Wildcats for an away environment.

*\u00a0UCLA also will be the first road start for QB Brandon Dawkins, but as Rodriguez noted, Dawkins played extensively at ASU last season.

*\u00a0Rodriguez on the current state of UA recruiting: \"I like where we\u2019re at, and I\u2019m pretty excited about what the next few years are going to look like for us.\"

"} ]