Having received Rondae Jefferson’s signed letter-of-intent earlier Thursday evening, Arizona coach Sean Miller could finally talk about Jefferson and Elliott Pitts after the UA-UTEP game.
Of Jefferson, he said: “When I watched Rondae play, sometimes as a college coach you want to draft a player almost. You wish you had that pick that you can pick them but it doesn’t work that way. With us losing both Kevin (Parrom) and Solomon (Hill) … Rondae is a physical player and a winner. At Chester High Schoool, in 4A basketball in Pennsylvania, where I’m from, it’s as competitive as anywhere in the country – and he’s won 58 games in a row.
“He’s a warrior. He’s similar to Solomon in that he can do a lot of things. He can handle the ball, he has a chance to be a great defensive player, he’s almost 6-7 and long, very unselfish, can pass and I think he is a player who is a great teammate. He can be at a lot of different spots. His versatility is the greatest thing that he has going for him.”
Of Pitts, Miller said:
“He’s from the storied De La Salle program, and that’s one of the things I like about both guys – they’re coached on a daily basis and winning matters in their school. De La Salle has an incredible program in the state of California and Elliott has been a central piece to their program the last few years.
“I don’t believe he’s getting enough credit right now for who he is as a player. Part of it is physically he’s a late developer. I believe he’s going to grow. He’s certainly going to be heavier when he gets here. The attributes that we love about him as a player is he’s a great passer, very skilled shooter and can play at more than one position. So when you think about us losing Mark Lyons, Kevin Parrom and Solomon Hill, I thought Elliott Pitts and Rondae Jefferson were the answer for us and we’re ecstatic to have both of them. They also are very good students, come from great families, and I think they’ll really buy into what we’re trying to do here at Arizona which is do something that’s bigger than yourself. Be a part of a program and a team that believes in itself.”
Miller said he expected to add “at least one more, if not two more, players before we get through the spring,” saying he didn’t know if UA would get another player in the fall.
Of two UA targets, Aaron Gordon is expected to make a spring decision, as may big man Kameron Rooks.
As of now, Miller said he considers it already a “four-man class” with the additions next season of the redshirting Matt Korcheck and T.J. McConnell.
“Matt Korcheck is practicing every day and getting better every day, and T.J. we believe in a lot,” Miller said. “Those two guys practice and make our environment better every day.”
While UA’s performance against UTEP was far from perfect, Miller said he was pleased that his young big men adapted to what the big and physical Miners threw at them.
“On our end, you always worry about (opponents’ size) because with (the freshmen big men), it was the first time they’ve really played against size in college basketball and against a physical man to man team. We saw a press, a trap on the first pass, a triangle-and-two. That makes for a difficult offensive night. But I was proud of our effort on the glass.”
The negatives, Miller said, was UA’s 19 turnovers and its many fouls against opposing shooters.
“So many of our fouls are at the end of the clock and they’re back-breakers,” Miller said. “You work hard for 25 seconds on defense and then all of a sudden the player shoots two free throws at the very end. Not fouling shooters and being more disciplined could have allowed us to have a great defensive night. Not just a good one.”
Hill said UA can cut down on fouls by studying film and figuring out what went wrong.
“We have to see what we our mistakes were,” Hill said. “There’s certain things we have to tweak. Fouling the shooter – we’re doing that a lot this year. We did it in scrimmages. It’s something that we have to watch on the film and take seriously. But we still have to be physical.”
On turnovers, Miller said: “It’s a shame because we had eight turnovers against Charleston Southern and we followed that up with 19. When you score 72 with 19 turnovers, the good news is that that shows you the upside that can be on offense. If we had 12 turnovers instead of 19 the points we would have scored would have been more in the 80s but we’ll learn from that and also give our opponent credit because a lot of the turnovers we had were forced by a good defense.”
Kaleb Tarczewski had eight points and six rebounds Thursday, after he was limited to four points and four rebounds in 14 minutes against Charleston Southern.
“Last game was a little tough for me,” Tarczewski said. “They were pretty small and they were in a zone so it wasn’t my game. I came out today and everyone did a great job of getting the ball in the post, and they were a little bit bigger so that kind of fit my style.”
The Miners were different not only in size but in schemes.
“Kaleb has played against two very different opponents,” Miller said. “The first team played a 2-3 zone that was very unique and they kept a body on him. We shot too many threes in that game. For a big guy sometimes it’s hard to play against a college zone until you to get used to it. Then he followed up tonight (with a team that) fronted the post. That was a big test.
“When you’re a big guy in college, you’re going to have nights sometimes when you don’t get it. He’ll be a much better player and a different player in December and January than he is now. He just needs game experience -- and his coach and his teammates have to learn to get him the ball in a better way. And I know we’re going to do that.”
UA took 13 three-pointers in the first half (18 for the game) and Miller said many of the early attempts arose because of UTEP’s defensive schemes.
“They trapped and had a triangle-and-two, so four or five of them were just a function of how they were playing,” Miller said. “We are talking constantly to the team about not making ill-advised threes – it makes no sense – and having more balance of post catches and drives.
“Maybe we did that better in the second half, but still its only Game Two. I don’t care who you are, you’re still not going to be smooth in some things you want to get better at. We want to be an inside team, we want to take great threes and have balance inside. That will make us the best team we can be.”
Here's the official box score.