Greg Hansen: Without fire, Cats and their boss burn

UA coach Sean Miller said after the loss to UCLA: "I told our team after the game that's all completely on me." He added that his being called for a late technical was "unacceptable."



They are rookies in your starting rotation, each touching 100 mph on the speed gun, each teasing you with a dazzling inning or two.

But when they are shelled in the fourth inning, your patience grows thin.

In an Arizona basketball sense, Brandon Ashley, Grant Jerrett and Kaleb Tarczewski are a bit the way pitchers Tom Glavine, Steve Avery and John Smoltz were when they arrived in the Atlanta Braves dugout a generation ago.

The potential comes first. The production, maybe, later.

But impatience rules. Why can't they be good now, with no intermediate stops, with no growing process?

In Arizona's four defeats, Ashley is averaging 6.7 points and shooting .396. In less troubled times, in 20 victories, he is shooting .541.

Tarczewski is a .506 shooter when Arizona wins. When it loses, he is shooting .400, scoring just 4.0 points. Jerrett's numbers predictably ebb when the Wildcats lose: 3.7 points and a .357 shooting percentage.

This is not unusual or unexpected, even at Arizona, where freshmen have at times been superb (Mike Bibby, 1997; Gilbert Arenas, 2000); and at times, flat (Jason Terry, 1996; Andre Iguodala, 2003).

After the Wildcats lost Thursday at Colorado, a game in which the Can't-Miss Kids combined to score 14 points in 48 minutes, and at times seem skittish in the heat of a Very Big Game, Sean Miller used an innuendo to signal that, hey, guys, it's time.

"Remember, high school's over and the race begins all over when you get to college," he said.

Miller joined that statement to a glowing endorsement of Colorado's 6-foot 6-inch freshman Xavier Johnson, who helped to bury the Wildcats with 19 points.

"I'm not sure he's not the best freshman in the conference," said the Arizona coach.

If the season ended today, the Pac-12's All-Freshman team would not include an Arizona player. It would include Johnson, ASU's Jahii Carson, UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad and Jordan Adams, and probably Utah's Jordan Loveridge.

Wasn't it supposed to be this killer freshman class that would return Arizona to power?

But there is an inherent danger in ranking freshmen in this league or any league. Carson is ASU's first option, given the ball and a green light in a decaying program. UCLA's freshmen are similarly a priority when the ball spins around the half court. Muhammad and Jordan have attempted 436 shots combined. UA's Ashley and Tarczewski, by comparison, have attempted 229 together.

Arizona's freshmen defer to Solomon Hill, Nick Johnson and Mark Lyons. Sometimes, if you watch closely, you can see Jerrett, for example, hesitate when he gets the ball, open and in range. It's a shot he probably buries 50 percent of the time in practice.

But when the lights are on and the pressure grows, he's shooting .376.

He didn't have that flash of apprehension a year ago, when he was a prep All-American, given the "go" sign almost anytime he touched the ball. Now, with a tick of hesitation, he probably wonders: Is Solo open? Shouldn't Lyons be taking this shot?

So far, in four setbacks, none of Arizona's freshmen have been able to fill the void on a night Hill is off (4 for 12 at Colorado), or when Johnson is having difficulty (2 for 8 against Cal).

After its NIT season of 2011-12, Arizona lost Kyle Fogg, Jessie Perry and Brendon Lavender and added Ashley, Tarczewski and Jerrett.

Who wouldn't have made that trade? Many worried that one (or more) of the freshmen would be one-and-done stars.

But now, 24 games into the season, it has become obvious that Fogg's ability to rise to the occasion, Perry's steadiness (he averaged 12.5 points with 7.5 rebounds per game) and Lavender's periodic ability to stick a game-changing three-pointer were under-valued.

As good as Arizona has been in a 20-4 start, the one clear net gain from 2011-12 has been Lyons, at point guard, replacing Josiah Turner, who was a poor shooter and only had 70 assists all season, a total Lyons has already surpassed.

That's why I continue to maintain that Miller has been the league's most effective coach, or no worse that 1-A with Oregon's Dana Altman.

Many of Arizona's variables are not impressive. Johnson has struggled mightily for two weeks. Kevin Parrom and Jordin Mayes appear to have peaked two years ago.

The Wildcats don't have a true point guard to orchestrate the flow, they don't have a go-to shooter, they seem to have lost their edgy approach, they're not a good transition team and, perhaps, the chemistry is wrong.

You'd almost think this team should be 15-9.

But before he left the Coors Events Center on Thursday, Miller continued to exude confidence.

"There aren't a lot of teams headed where we're headed," he said.

Know this about potential: In their first seasons with Atlanta, Smoltz was 2-7, Avery 3-11 and Glavine 2-4.

For Arizona, as with the old Atlanta Braves, the Wildcats are still trying to figure it out.

Contact reporter Greg Hansen at or 573-4145. On Twitter @GHansen711.