Arizona Wildcats coach Sean Miller may yet wind up with the eight-man playing rotation he talked about in the preseason.
But, after five games, he’s also finding that a little fluidity, a little insurance, is probably a good idea, too. Especially considering the more tightly called games, and the chance of injuries or slumps.
So during the Wildcats’ easy NIT Season Tip-Off wins this week, Miller gave almost starters’ minutes to forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and guard Gabe York, a pair of feet-wetting experiences for freshman guard Elliott Pitts and more tests for transfer forward Zach Peters, among other things.
All of those experiences could pay off down the road.
“Your bench can’t get deep enough,” Miller said. “We want players to be able to come in and add. With foul trouble, injuries, it’s a long season. We want everybody to feel a part of what we’re doing.”
Here’s a look at what UA’s reserves did this week:
— York not only continued to gain confidence but broke out with a career-high 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting against Fairleigh Dickinson on Monday, then scored eight more on 3-for-6 shooting against Rhode Island.
He also took it modestly. York credited point guard T.J. McConnell for helping him get wide-open shots and spoke about defense as much as anything.
“I think defensively I’ve surprised the coaches a little bit,” York said. “Defense is what I’ve been priding myself on, and offense sort of has come easy to me. Defense is really the main thing I’m concerned about.”
— Hollis-Jefferson scored 13 points in both games and totaled 11 for 15 shooting, driving to the basket aggressively often while blocking a shot in each game.
“He comes in with a lot of fire,” Miller said. “He’s almost like a starter off the bench. But he brings a lot of intangibles to the table. I don’t know if there’s been a time where he’s entered a game and something hasn’t gone our way. He’s a rebounder, a great passer, and defensively he’s only going to get better as he learns the college game.”
— Senior guard Jordin Mayes struggled in both games, lending further weight to the idea of developing the rest of the backcourt rotation. Mayes was 0 for 4 from the field against FDU and played only two minutes against Rhode Island, leaving quickly after he fouled and turned the ball over.
— A redshirt candidate earlier in the fall, Pitts averaged 10 minutes in his first two games of his college career, and hit 3 of 6 field goal attempts (2 of 5 from three-point range).
Pitts struggled with fouls, but Miller has said Pitts has made improvement in practice, and his 6-foot-5-inch frame gives Miller the option of a bigger shooter in the backcourt.
“We’re trying to mix him in,” Miller said. “In fairness to Elliott, (Rhode Island) was only the second game he played. He had an illegal screen, almost because he wasn’t ready, and (against FDU) he fouled a three-point shooter. Those things happen at the beginning until you settle in and get a better feel for the speed of the game.”
— Peters played in his second and third games since being cleared medically after a history of concussions before he arrived at Arizona over the summer. He went scoreless with two rebounds over eight combined minutes.
— Junior forward Matt Korcheck had three rebounds and three points in eight minutes against FDU, then had a block and a rebound in three minutes against Rhode Island.