After Utah swept Oregon and Oregon State last weekend, you'd figure UA coach Sean Miller would have some pretty nice things to say about the Utes at his weekly news conference Tuesday.
“Oregon’s been tough,” Miller said. “For them to win that one and at Oregon State, I think, says a lot about their team. They have balanced scoring, five players in double figures. We’re familiar with a number of their players, especially (forward David) Collette. I think he’s one of the best low-post scorers we’ll face all year. Larry Krystkowiak does a great job with that program and coaching his team. We know that’s a great home court they have in Salt Lake City, so we’re going to have to be ready to go.”
Miller also praised the Krystkowiak’s recruiting, whether transfers or freshmen. Utah has had roughly as much turnover as Arizona in recent years, thanks to transfers and early pro departures.
Point guard Justin “Bibbins is a big add to their team. He gives them kind of that engine that runs the team. He makes the game easier for his teammates. Gives them quickness defensively, takes a lot of charges and he’s in double figures. He’s one of the five players they have in double figures as a point guard. That and having Sedrick Barefield freed up to play off the ball probably brings out the best in him as well. So they’re a good program, not just a good team and coach. No question they’ve established themselves as a team that can be in this year’s tournament and I know this is a big weekend for them.”
Parker Jackson-Cartwright averages only 7.1 points a game but his assist-turnover ratio is now over 3-1 for the season (67 assists to 22 turnovers) and he’s hit half of his 38 3-point attempts, typically taking them only when a defense has left him open while focusing on others.
“Parker has done a real good job in a quiet way,” Miller said. “He doesn’t get a lot of credit because he’s not a high scorer but you have to remember the team that he’s playing on -- in some ways he’s the perfect point guard for this team.
“With Rawle back, we have two wings who can score. We have a good low-post game. What Parker does is what a lot of coaches would love their point guard to do. He sits on a 3-1 assist-turnover ratio. Last game he was 6-1. And he’s shooting high percentage from 3. A lot like Bibbins, you can’t leave Parker alone. And as you decide what to do – trapping, double teaming our post guys, or trying to crowd the court against Rawle or Allonzo, Parker is continuously in position to take 3s and make those and he’s done a great job until now of doing that and I expect him to continue to shoot the ball well.
“When you look at his 3-point shooting, assist-to-turnover (ratio) and defensively, I think this is the best he’s played. Even against ASU, Tra Holder had big night, but a lot of those points didn’t come one-on-one against Parker. (Holder) thrives in transition, sometimes against other matchups, so Parker is a really important part of our team’s success.”
Dylan Smith, the sophomore transfer from UNC Asheville, said Tuesday he’s become more settled in his role. Smith had three 3-pointers in the first half Saturday against ASU.
“I’m just trying to focus and lock in, trying to bring some production to the team and help us out,” Smith said. “I just go out and play. Whatever happens, happens. I try not to put too much pressure on myself and just play the game. I feel I’ve gotten a lot better as far as knowing my role and what coach wants me to do and try to execute that.”
Smith was the leading scorer at UNC Asheville in 2015-16, averaging 13.5 points with 34.9-percent 3-point shooting, but didn’t start a single game until January. He started the final 19 of Asheville’s 34 games, going 4 of 7 from 3-point range against eventual national champ Villanova in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
As a result, Smith said he’s used to coming off the bench.
“It’s just coming in and figuring out my role, what coach wants me to do,” he said.
The Wildcats skipped the Utah-Colorado swing last year but were swept the last time they made it, toward the end of the 2015-16 season.
Since only three of his current players were involved, I asked Miller if he might use that history to warn the players what they might be in for.
“Nah, that’s like 15 years ago,” Miller said. “That’s so irrelevant to the world today. You know, Obama used to be the president, Trump is now. Khalil Tate is the quarterback. Remember when Gronkowski was here? Sean Elliott used to play here. Doesn’t have a lot to do with today.”
Arizona is 6-4 overall on the Colorado-Utah swing since the mountain schools joined the Pac-12 in 2011-12. The Wildcats are 4-1 at Utah since then, but lost in 2015-16 and needed overtime to win in 2013-14.