The Arizona Wildcats are carrying 16 players on their roster this season, counting five walk-ons, and one reason for it surfaced Thursday.
Not because any of those walk-ons, or even the deep reserve scholarship players, made it on the floor for UA’s 67-65 win over Oregon. It’s because those walk-ons can form the scout team, freeing up reserves such as Elliott Pitts to get more valuable experience taking first-team-type repetitions.
So when Pitts was thrown into the regular rotation Thursday in the absence of Brandon Ashley, UA coach Sean Miller found he wasn’t lost. Pitts had three points and three rebounds in 12 minutes, despite having played in just eight games before and rarely at all in quality time situations.
“He’s never been in a practice where he’s on the scout team or stands on the side,” Miller said. “He’s always been in every practice, getting ready and preparing.
“In a funny way, you see a guy like Elliott who doesn’t have a role in a game, and yet he’s getting better.”
Pitts made an instant impact upon entering Thursday’s game with 14 minutes 10 seconds remaining in the first half. He grabbed an offensive rebound along the baseline that led to two free throws from Kaleb Tarczewski and sank his second of two three-point attempts over the next three minutes.
Pitts finished 1 of 3 from three-point range, having taken all his shots in the first half.
“Watching Elliott Pitts, you can see it looked right,” Miller said. “He has a beautiful-looking shot. Again, the more he gets out there, the more comfortable he gets. I think he can give us maybe a punch on offense, and that can be one of the positives as we utilize him more.”
While Pitts was not among the players UA chose for postgame interviews Thursday, guard Nick Johnson said he tried to make sure Pitts was ready mentally.
“I think he played great,” Johnson said. “I kept on telling him before the game, ‘Don’t come in and play scared’ because we all know what he can do in practice. His matchup every day in practice is Rondae (Hollis-Jefferson), so we really toughened him up a little bit … (and) he did a great job on defense.”
UA signee withdraws after misconduct
Arizona signee Parker Jackson-Cartwright opted to withdraw from Loyola High School after admitting academic misconduct, his father told the Los Angeles Times on Friday.
However, Ramon Cartwright told the Star later on Friday that Miller has been supportive and that he expects his son to still play for the Wildcats next season.
“We’ve been in touch with the (UA) coaches, and we already have a go-ahead plan,” Ramon Cartwright said. “They know full well what’s happening. Man, the way (Miller) talked to my son, Arizona is blessed to have him. What a stand-up guy. … We were worried that he could say, ‘All bets are off; you’re radioactive’ and of course that would have added to our pain.”
Ramon Cartwright declined to say what his son was involved in but said his family disagreed with the punishment suggested by Loyola administration, which would have included being dismissed from the basketball team. Instead, Jackson-Cartwright will leave the team and the school while planning to finish his high school education at a public school near the family’s home in Van Nuys.
“Parker was wrong, and they have the right to discipline him. … The reason we left was the disagreement over the kind of discipline,” Cartwright said. “We’re already disciplining him. He’s remorseful.”
Jackson-Cartwright did not return messages from the Star on Friday, but his father said he returned to Loyola to apologize Friday against his parents’ initial wishes.
“We did not want him to go for the tribunal, but he literally screamed me down,” Cartwright said. “He told me he could not feel better until he apologized. Coming from an 18-year-old, that shook me to the core, not only that he said it but how he challenged me.”
Although Loyola coach Jamal Adams did not return messages from the Star, he issued support for Jackson-Cartwright on Twitter.
“My father always taught me that your dudes are your dudes through thick and thin!” Adams tweeted. “Love ya PJC! I’m always going to ride with ya!”
Jackson-Cartwright was averaging 13.7 points and 7.3 assists per game for the Cubs, who are 22-1 and ranked eighth nationally by MaxPreps.
For Arizona, Jackson-Cartwright has been projected to play behind T.J. McConnell at point guard next season and possibly take over the starting role in 2015-16.
Miller credited the sold-out McKale Center crowd of 14,545 for helping carry the Wildcats when they needed it during Thursday’s game, which UA trailed at halftime and for over 18 minutes into the second half.
“I keep saying this, but I say it because it’s true: Playing in McKale Center is such an honor for a team, for a player, that you don’t ever want to lose because you feel like you’re letting everybody down,” Miller said. The Oregon game “was like a group effort with our crowd and the team. We were all resilient in the building. We were all trying to will ourselves to the final second.”
And at the end, Oregon missed 3 of 4 free throws, despite having entered the game shooting free throws at an 81.7 percent rate in Pac-12 games. But the Ducks were facing the UA student section when they shot, and McConnell agreed with a suggestion that the fans had something to do with Oregon’s late struggles at the line.
“In my opinion — and I played here against Arizona (with Duquesne in 2011-12) — we have the best fans in the country,” McConnell said. “When you go to the free-throw line, the opposing team can barely hear (itself) think. I can see why they missed those free throws because the Zona Zoo gets pretty loud, and all of our fans get pretty loud.”
McConnell missed four of his first five three-point attempts Thursday but said “everyone was telling me to keep shooting.”
His coach felt the same way. Then McConnell made a go-ahead three with 1:32 left.
It’s “just making sure they’re good ones,” Miller said. “One of the things T.J. was doing against the zone was he was too far out. A couple of his shots were more from the NBA line than the college line. The one he made (toward the end of the game) looks like he was closer. He’s a very good shooter, as is Nick (Johnson).”
If it’s not hard enough for Oregon State coach Craig Robinson to see ASU guard Jahii Carson in an ASU uniform — after the Mesa High product once committed to OSU — it’s another to see him shoot 18 free throws in the Sun Devils’ 86-82 win over OSU on Thursday.
Carson made 13 of the 18 freebies.
“That guy shot 18 foul shots,” Robinson said, only hinting at favorable calls for Carson, according to the Oregonian. “I’m going to try not to get myself in trouble here.”
Oregon State will face UA at 5 p.m. on Sunday at McKale.