Only one thing really stopped Deandre Ayton on Wednesday, and it had nothing to do with Eastern New Mexico.
That is, he developed a leg cramp. Ayton left Arizona’s 91-63 win over the Greyhounds with 7:15 left as he limped slightly and never returned.
It was a lesson Sean Miller figures Ayton is better off learning now than upon his return home to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis later this month.
“Deandre is learning the difference between high school and college,” Miller said. “We had (the kind of) shootaround today that he’s probably never done and then he played 24 minutes – and it probably felt like 40 for him.
“We’re still in early November but learning how to drink water, how to hydrate, the importance of your diet, those are all things that usually freshmen learn in November.
"He probably learned something tonight. In a couple of weeks when we go to the Bahamas, with the climate and him playing three games in three days, playing more than 24 minutes, that’s something I think he’ll be more ready for.
Other than that, Ayton and, really, all of UA’s freshmen pretty much lived up to expectations in their first exhibition game appearance. Miller said Alex Barcello “handled himself really well” despite having to play 33 minutes at point guard because of Parker Jackson-Cartwright’s absence, and praised Emmanuel Akot after the versatile wing hit two 3-pointers and dished a team-high six assists.
Shooting is “an area we’ve really been on him about,” Miller said of Akot. “He’s more of a pass-first player. He’s incredibly unselfish but we need him to take the open shots when he’s given those and tonight especially in the first half it was great to see him step in with confidence.
“He already does some other things. Six assists at his size, that’s a great performance. And one thing we really want him to do more of is rebound. You can tell he’s maybe not used to doing that as much. He only had one rebound. But it’s nothing like game experience to show him, to teach him, so he’ll be more accustomed to going and helping us in that area.”
Asked about his shooting, Akot said simply: “I’ve been working on my shot all summer and my teammates did a great job of getting me the ball. And I just hit ‘em.”
Of UA’s other freshmen, Brandon Randolph was 0 for 7 from 3-point range but redeemed himself by driving inside for five shots and hitting all four free-throws he took, finishing with 10 points.
“You can tell he’s not one dimensional,” Miller said. “For him to score 14 points on a night where he’s 0 for 7 from 3 shows you maybe where he’ll be as we keep moving forward. He really puts the ball on the floor well and the attacks basket better than you think.
"For Brandon, it’s all about experience. Learning how to defend, the speed of the game. … but he’s very explosive on offense. He’ll have nights where he can score 20 points.”
Barcello had seven points, three rebounds and two assists to two turnovers, playing in a role Miller said would not be easy because of Jackson-Cartwright’s absence. (PJC took some early warmups before the game as part of his rehab and is expected to return Sunday against Chico State).
“Alex is a really tough kid, he really is,” Miller said. “He practices a lot like T.J. McConnell did. Every day he’s the same and he’s going to do nothing but get better and better as he gets more game experience. We’re really fortunate to have him.”
Chico State will be returning for the third straight season to McKale Center, having lost 90-54 in 2015-16 but only 78-70 last season with teams that have made the Division II Elite Eight in each of the past four seasons.
The Wildcats of Chico return four starters and have been ranked between 5-13 in various Division II preseason rankings.
“Chico State will be an upgrade,” Miller said. “Chico State has a chance to win the national championship at their level. So hopefully this game will prepare us to be that much better on Sunday.”
Our full coverage and a PDF box score from Wednesday's game is attached.