Arizona scored more than 100 points over its first two games without Rawle Alkins and largely without Brandon Randolph, so it's probably fair to say Sean Miller probably doesn’t have a lot to complain about offensively.
But, of course, his focus never leaves the other side of the ball.
So even as Dylan Smith came off the bench to pop in half of his four 3-pointers, the UA coach made it clear Smith won’t play as much if he doesn’t defend.
The same may apply to some other guys, especially after the low-major Retrievers hit 14 of 28 3-pointers on Sunday in UA’s 103-78 win.
While Miller said Smith can shoot well and has passed well in practice, he also added all this:
“I really believe he’s improved on defense and will continue to do so but in some regards a couple of our players who will eventually emerge are going to hang their hat on defense, because we need more of those types of guys right now,” Miller said. “Not that everybody isn’t allowed to take a good shot but we need more balance. We need perimeter players who can maybe sign up to guard the other team’s best offensive player. We need big guys to come in and do a really good job like Keanu (Pinder) and Ira (Lee) did tonight of giving us maybe a quicker look.
“As we learn our roles and as we do a better job of figuring out who can do what, our defense will settle in. It has to improve. It’s not bad. Like in the second half (Sunday) if you look at their numbers they shot 31 percent from the field and were 6 of 14 from 3. A lot of that had to do with our defense. I was hoping they couldn’t keep up the same pace they had on offense in the second half.”
Smith did block two shots on Sunday with his long and slender frame.
“Dylan’s long,” Parker Jackson-Cartwright said when asked about them. “He’s like 6-5, his arms touch the rim pretty much. So he got out there and blocked those shots. That was really impressive.”
While Smith made his Arizona career debut Sunday, having missed two exhibition games and the season opener because of an unspecified team violation, Pinder made his senior-year debut after missing Friday’s opener with a one-game suspension because of an unspecified NCAA violation.
Pinder and Lee hold promise of being the kind of defenders Miller is looking for inside: Pinder is older and more experienced, but Lee is physically capable as a freshman and also more athletic than his size might suggest.
“Keanu’s one of our most experienced players,” Miller said. “He’s in his last year of college on a team with so many young players, five freshmen. He gives us an older feel. He knows his role. Ira does too. They play with a lot of energy, they’re quick and I think they really embrace the defensive role on this team and that’s a healthy component for us.
Randolph played just two minutes in each half while coming back slowly from a concussion suffered in practice on Nov. 3. Randolph sat out the minimum seven days and then was cleared to play in full-contact practices on Saturday but Miller said the Wildcats didn’t really have a full-contact practice on Saturday.
“So to put him out there in five-on-five game like that, I don’t know if it would be smart for him or our team,” Miller said. “I was just glad he could get in the game and now he can start working his way back.”
Here were Miller’s comments on Deandre Ayton after Sunday’s game. We’ll just print them all here:
“He’s very talented. When I talk about him, I really like to talk about him in terms of how smart he is, how he has done things we’ve asked him to do both on and off the court, to be in a structured environment. He hasn’t fought us at all. His talent speaks for itself but what I’m so impressed with is how fun he is to be around. He’s competitive and sometimes something doesn’t go right and you can see he’ll leave his emotions on his sleeve but I would much rather tame a guy down and talk to him in those terms than wonder if he wants to compete.
“And with Deandre, you always know that he loves to play the game and he hates to lose. Just watching his competitive spirit, it’s fun to see with a guy that young and also that talented.”
One of the few negatives spread around Ayton as a high school player was that he sometimes didn’t play hard. I asked Miller about that.
“I would love to get those guys in a room and figure out what they saw,” Miller said of Ayton’s critics. “Because I’ve watched him through 28 practices plus 11 (in the summer), so 39 practices, two games in Spain, two exhibitions and two games. Is he perfect? No young person is, but his ability to go hard is unquestioned and I think that’s why he has such a bright future.”
Miller also praised Ayton’s ability to see the need sometimes to pass out of double teams, and his ability to do it well.
“It’s so hard for young guys to know when to give it up, when to pass and when not to,” Miller said. “Sometimes they appear to be clumsy or selfish and it’s really not the case. It’s just that their back is to the basket and all these different schemes are, like, swarming them. It takes time to grow and learn and he can do it now.
“That’s of the best things that he does as a player and Allonzo’s been the beneficiary of a number of different looks where Deandre found the first open man, and all of a sudden the ball is swinging and Allonzo (Trier) will be more than happy to take that open shot. You don’t have to talk him into it. But that unselfishness from our post players is a good characteristic to have."
One performance that might have been easy to overlook considering Ayton and Trier's game on Sunday: That Alex Barcello had eight points, five rebounds and six assists – to no turnovers in just his second game as a college player. Miller also spoke highly of his defense.
“Alex is a very, very good player,” Miller said. “He is tough. Doesn’t take a play off. His defense has surprised me. It’s a very hard adjustment to go from high school to college and right away be good but if you look at tonight he might have done the best job on Lyles of any of our guards and that’s really saying a lot. Six assists, no turnovers. He’s one of our team’s best shooters and we’ve played him at the one and two.
"Alex is sometimes overlooked because he’s from Phoenix. He’s the local kid. But he’s a very good player and he has helped us as much early on because he’s been one of the constants. E hasn’t missed any time. As he works so hard, you can see him getting better.”
Barcello made 3 of 6 shots, including 2 of 4 from 3-point range.
“If he’s open, I put my belief in his shot,” Miller said. “I don’t know if there are any players on our team you feel better about shooting an open 3 than Alex. That’s also a weapon when he’s out there with somebody like Allonzo. He fits in very well because he can really make you pay.”
Overall, UA shot 60.9 percent and made 15 of 28 3s against UMBC, even better percentages in their season opener against NAU.
“I believe we have a lot of talent on offense and can go inside and outside,” Miller said. “It’s just a matter of us paying unselfishly and letting certain guys maybe learn their role.
"Emmanuel (Akot), he’s one of our most talented young players but he took a couple shots maybe in the second half that we don’t need him to shoot. He’ll learn. It wasn’t as if he was trying to do something we didn’t want him to do. It was more a matter of him figuring out what he’s supposed to do and what not. But things like that are what November is about.”
The game story and related items are attached to this post, along with PDFs of the box score and UA's stats after two games.