A five-hour flight home Sunday evening gave the Arizona Wildcats plenty of time to let perspective soak in.
Yeah, their 3-point shooting dipped (3 for 17) and their ball movement dropped off notably from the team that had 22 assists to just six turnovers on Thursday against Georgia Southern. In part because of UConn’s pressure the Wildcats had just 12 assists to 14 turnovers this time.
But they won 76-72.
“Our guys had perseverance in the game,” guard Justin Coleman said Tuesday, when he was the UA player selected to join the team’s weekly news conference. “We didn’t play that well. We didn’t shoot the ball well. The fact that a lot of guys stepped up, like Emmanuel (Akot), Alex Barcello and Dylan Smith played really well. The fact that Brandon Randolph (5 for 15) didn’t shoot the ball well but did other things well. He persevered in the game and we came out on the winning end.”
“It made the trip back home a little quicker. Winning on the road is always good because it’s tough to win on the road, especially at UConn. It was a big-time win for our program.”
The Wildcats not only had to fly across the country for the game but also play at 11 a.m. on their body clocks, the same time Sunday’s game at Alabama will be played. They also had to share their charter flight with about 100 boosters, but UA coach Sean Miller said they stayed largely the same.
“It had all the makings of a tough game for us, especially considering the timing of the game, but we prepared,” Miller said. “We had a real focus about us leading up to the game and I think if you’re going to go and take on that type of challenge, you really have to have the kind of wherewithal that you’re going to be at your best and you’re going to compete to win. I liked the way it felt.
“Even if we had lost the game, our intent was pretty good, our preparation was very good and we had a lot of great moments in the game that gives us a lot of optimism that we can play some very good basketball this year.”
Miller said Ryan Luther “seemed to be more sure of himself” at UConn after hurting his finger in Maui and playing off the bench in the last two games.
Miller said he isn’t sure yet whether start Emmanuel Akot again on Thursday against Utah Valley, but he said he does like the focus and confidence starting Akot has given him — as well as the different look Ryan Luther can bring off the bench with his shooting.
“The one difference between Emmanuel and Ryan is Ryan is one of our team’s best overall shooters so when he doesn’t start and comes in the game he gives us a different look,” Miller said. “Really, ditto for Emmanuel. Him starting the game gives us a different look-- we have another ballhandler on the court, we have almost another wing player to defend. I’m gonna say we’re a little bit quicker, a little more fluid in terms of multiple ballhandlers.
“But Ryan comes in the game and he gives us that shooting scoring punch. Well see I don’t know if we’ve made our mind up with how the starting lineup is going to be moving forward but all those guys are going to play.”
Best line of the news conference probably belonged to Coleman. Miller could be heard enthusiastically greeting him as “J-Cole” before the news conference, so Coleman was asked if that’s a regular thing.
“It just depends,” Coleman said. “If I turn the ball over, he’ll call me by my full name.”