Arizona 6-foot-10-inch freshman Grant Jerrett, left, has spent time in practice this week guarding smaller players, such as 6-2 Gabe York.


SALT LAKE CITY - Back home at Likins Hall, the Arizona Wildcats' three freshmen big guys try to play defense against the little guy.

If freshman guard Gabe York sees one of his classmates coming - be it roommate Kaleb Tarczewski or the tandem of Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett, who live together across the hall - he'll duck behind a corner and start the video app on his phone.

"I jump out from behind the corner," York said, "and scare 'em."

The big guys know to look for him now, be it before their weekly Sunday trek to In-N-Out Burger or when walking to class.

"Unless we're sleeping … we're together all the time," said Tarczewski, who's stuck with an extra-long twin bed.

Tonight in their NCAA tournament debuts, Ashley, Jerrett and Tarczewski will face the same challenge in Belmont as they do with York: try not to be caught off-guard by the little guy.

The Bruins don't start anyone taller than 6 feet 7 inches.

"They can be a monster on the boards," UA forward Solomon Hill said of his teammates. "You're talking about Kaleb coming out early and really making his presence known.

"Grant really getting down there and getting a couple blocks and protecting the rim.

"And Brandon Ashley just having a good all-around game."

That could portend a long night for the Bruins, whose bench height doesn't extend past 6-11 center Chad Lang, who averages only 4.2 minutes.

The UA's four post players - the three freshmen plus sophomore Angelo Chol - are all 6-8 or bigger.

"Noticed that," Belmont coach Rick Byrd said wryly.

"They're tall, obviously," said one of Belmont's two 6-7 starters, forward Trevor Noack.

Jerrett sensed Tarczewski - who, over the past seven games has shot 59 percent and has averaged 7.7 points and 8.3 rebounds - would get his chances on offense.

"Every time he's open, we're just going to throw him the ball," he said.

The Bruins have ways of trying to slow him.

"They may choose to try to go inside more than they have," Byrd said.

"This team has found a way even when we have played big people, and there are different ways to do that. You can front more, which requires good off-side help.

"You can let 'em throw it in there and dig on the post and make a guy wonder whether you're going to double him.

"You can double him immediately.

"We'll probably mix up a lot of that kinda stuff."

Byrd sounded more concerned about the Wildcats' wings - "Great scorers," he said - and the UA's ability to grab offensive rebounds.

"The second-shot opportunities those guys get because of their length and size," he said, "I really think they teach that very well, and coach that very well."

Noack said that "you've gotta push on them as much as you can, and not let 'em get position. That's a big thing: If they get position, there's not a whole lot you can do."

Jerrett and Ashley have starred the last seven games, just as Tarczewski had.

"All of us, we play against each other every day in practice," the 7-foot center said. "We kinda feed off each other's energy."

Jerrett has made half his 34 shots - including 11 of 24 threes - during that seven-game span, averaging seven points per game.

Ashley's 15 points against UCLA six days ago was his highest total since Dec. 22.

He's scored more points in the past three games, 29, then in his previous five combined.

"If you think of the experience they've gotten from start to finish, they are no longer freshmen, and you can see that out there," UA coach Sean Miller said. "They're more sure of themselves on offense and defense."

The Wildcats spent the week having Ashley and Jerrett guard smaller players in practice, be it Hill or even redshirting point guard T.J. McConnell, for the inevitable defensive mismatch.

"You come out, you know what you're playing for," Ashley said. "You just have to play your same game."

Tonight, they'll experience the NCAA tournament for the first time.

And hope for another round Saturday.

"Like any team, our team is so much better, and so much more difficult to beat when those guys are playing well," Miller said.

"Hopefully, tomorrow that will be the case."

Contact reporter Patrick Finley at or 573-4145. On Twitter @PatrickFinley