Elliott Pitts wore sweatpants Friday when Arizona beat Cal Poly 73-62 but it’s not yet clear if he will all season.
The Wildcats already somewhat limped through their season opener, with Kaleb Tarczewski having a sore hip, Aaron Gordon a groin strain and Zach Peters still not ready to help after being cleared medically earlier this week.
So maybe, with 11 total scholarship players, it isn’t a given that the freshman guard redshirts.
“Just looking at our team tonight, I don’t know if we can afford to” have Pitts redshirt, Miller said. “Elliott does a great job in practice. Like a lot of our young guys he’ll keep getting better as the weeks go by here. There may be a time where he’s a viable option for us."
A year ago, Gabe York was in a similar situation, the last scholarship guard on the bench, and a guy who needed more strength and defense to justify a spot on the floor.
He played just 15 of UA’s 35 games, out of the rotation nearly all season. But Friday, York not only played 26 minutes but also started when Tarczewski sat out at the beginning of the game.
That’s a pretty big turnaround.
“He’s stronger; you can see that,” Miller said. “A year ago he looked like a young colt as a freshman, but now he’s heavier and stronger. He’s practiced and worked extremely hard for this opportunity. He’s a real key player for us on offense and I thought he did a good job on defense as well.”
York said he was a little nervous when he found out about 30 minutes before the game that he would start. It’s possible that Miller’s move might help build confidence down the line for a team that needs reliable perimeter shooters.
Still, Miller had never kept Tarczewski out of the lineup at all last season, going with the 7-footer no matter what the opposition had. He said he didn’t consider going small for matchup reasons Friday, either, but decided to only after he watched Tarczewski at the pregame shootaround.
“He fell on his hip a couple of days ago, and didn’t seem to be moving very well” at shootaround, Miller said. “So with that in mind, we went to the next guy and Gabe was that person.
“It ended up working out because Cal Poly tried to spread us out and going smaller was certainly the answer. When Kaleb came in, he didn’t rebound but the way the game flowed for him, being so far away from the basket, he came in and really helped his team. And like Aaron, I hope he can get healthier so we can get more out of him.”
Tarczewski had 11 points, no rebounds and a block in 19 minutes.
Gordon mostly shrugged off the groin strain that Miller said has been bothering him since UA’s Oct. 28 exhibition game with Augustana, saying the biggest issue was that other areas of his body tried to compensate.
“My back started hurting me a little bit,” he said. “But in a few days maybe I’ll be back to normal.”
Gordon said he did not view it as a long-term issue at all.
“There’s nothing you can really do with it,” he said. “So you just keep taking care of it, play on it and eventually it will go away like it never happened.”
Still, Miller said the injury is “something that can linger” and that he has not had Gordon practice every day.
“We’ve tried to be smart and protect him, and sit him out,” Miller said. “In tonight’s game, I thought in the 33 minutes he played, 20 of them you could kind of see him at full speed then … especially in the second half, he wore down a little bit. I hope in the near future he can be 100 percent. He did a lot of good things. If he hits his free throws, he has not a good night but a great night.”
Hmm, those free throws. As a team, UA put up its worst effort from the line in over a year. The Wildcats hit just 20 of 36 free throws (55.6 percent), with Gordon going 2 for 6, T.J. McConnell 0 for 3, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson 5 for 6.
Miller said that butterflies had a lot to do with it, and that UA is a better free-throw-shooting team than it showed.
In the future, he said, the Wildcats should be better from the line. And in a lot of other areas.
“That first (game) can go a lot of different directions,” Miller said. “You have players who were anxious, a little nervous (because it’s the) first time it counts for real.”
But “our upside is significant. We just have so many players in new roles that that you can’t expect us to be a great team right now. We’re far from it. We have to work to overcome it. Down the road, I think we’re going to be a much better team than you saw tonight.”
Here's the official box score.