Arizona basketball: Longer road worth it

UA senior Solomon Hill, driving against Oregon State in January, is happy that he stayed in school. "There's so much more that goes into being a guy who can play in the NBA - your habits, how you present yourself," he says.


At 7 feet and 255 pounds, Kaleb Tarczewski has the kind of body that suggests it's good to be selfish.

After all, as the freshman center has quietly shown during the Arizona Wildcats' recent bumpy stretch, he has an improving ability to score inside over all manner of players. Hooks, layups, tip-ins. No problem.

So why pass?

Well, sometimes against a good defense, it works out even better.

Tarczewski fed guard Mark Lyons an assist that led to a three-pointer early in the second half of Arizona's 73-56 win over Washington State on Saturday and later found Nick Johnson to set up a three in the game's final seconds.

"Kaleb is very unselfish," UA coach Sean Miller said. "He's a very willing passer."

As it turned out, those were the only two assists Tarczewski has had so far in the Pac-12 season. But considering his recent efficiency, the Wildcats don't want him to be too unselfish.

In Arizona's past three games, Tarczewski converted 12 of 17 field goal attempts, and he has had only two total turnovers during that span.

That's a pretty a high rate of return for those who throw the ball to him.

"Lately, it's important that we can get him the ball, and that's ever-evolving," Miller said.

"There was a time where it wouldn't have been smart for us to try to go to him more, but right now there's no question that the more we're able to get him the ball in scoring position, the better our team is."

Tarczewski's overall averages have been similar in nonconference and conference games, but while his field goal shooting has dipped overall from 57.7 percent in nonconference play to 47.9 percent in Pac-12 play games, his free-throw shooting has improved from 46.2 percent to 66.7 percent in the Pac-12.

And over UA's most recent three games, Tarczewski is shooting 70.6 percent from the field. Last week against Washington and Washington State, Tarczewski made 4 of 6 shots in each game, playing well enough that UA even nominated him for the Pac-12 Player of the Week award that was won by Cal's Justin Cobbs.

The evidence, and Tarczewski's words, say he's getting comfortable.

"It's tough being a freshman and tough to get confidence," Tarczewski said. "At the beginning of the year I had trouble finding my way. But lately, the team has been doing a great job of getting me the ball in position where I can score.

"That's really been helping me and my confidence. Basketball is all about confidence. I'm starting to find myself in the game."

It's a trend that Miller said he saw coming in practice about a month ago.

"Then a couple of weeks ago in games, it really started to show," Miller said. "If you're watching us on film, that's one of the things that you're worried about - because he's more sure of himself.

"He works so hard every day that it's just a matter of time before he finds it."

The Wildcats will need Tarczewski's momentum against some formidable post players at USC and UCLA this week. The Trojans have a pair of imposing 7-footers in Dewayne Dedmon and Omar Oraby, and the Bruins have skilled twin towers David and Travis Wear plus potential in 275-pound freshman Tony Parker, who played well while Travis Wear missed Sunday's USC-UCLA game.

But the good news for Miller is that Tarczewski won't have to handle them all by himself. While freshman forward Brandon Ashley has struggled with foul trouble lately, the Wildcats have gotten more help from sophomore Angelo Chol, while the move of Solomon Hill more often from small to power forward gives the Wildcats five total players for the two post spots.

"One of the strengths of our team is the depth up front," Miller said. "I don't see any of those guys wearing down, just because they haven't had that role that would allow them to do that.

"As long as we stay healthy, one of the things we feel good about moving forward is those guys all work very, very hard in practice, they're unselfish and pick each other up."

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Up next

• Who: No. 11 Arizona at USC

• When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

• TV: Pac-12 Arizona

• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM


Kaleb Tarczewski is on a mini-hot streak the last two weeks:

Date Opp. Min. FG Pts. Reb. TO

Feb. 17 Utah 18 4-5 9 4 1

Feb. 20 Washington 25 4-6 10 8 0

Feb. 23 WSU 23 4-6 12 6 1