TUCSON – To say the least the 2011-12 season for the Arizona Wildcats was one that didn’t go as expected. With four highly-touted freshmen and a few solid returnees, Sean Miller’s bunch was expected to contend for a Pac-12 title.
No need to rehash what happened despite being one win away from the NCAA tournament, but one of the big problems for that group was the fact that there weren’t many available solutions if something went wrong.
Three games into the 2012-13 season, it’s safe to say that won’t be an issue for this group (knock on wood).
Taking on a Long Beach State squad with just nine available players the Wildcats jumped the 49ers early, and another run in the second half put the game away as the Wildcats won 94-72.
Brandon Ashley, inserted into the starting lineup in place of fellow freshman Grant Jerrett, scored the first nine points of the game and finished with a game-high 20 points and ten rebounds for his first double-double as a Wildcat.
In total four Wildcats reached double figures and as a team Arizona shot 53.6% from the field, with 17 of their 30 field goals being assisted.
And just one game after out-rebounding UTEP by an dominant 35-15 margin, Arizona took advantage of Long Beach State’s rebounding issues to the tune of a 41-23 margin.
To say the least it was a good night for the Wildcats.
“We did some great things tonight,” said Miller. “Offensive I believe we got the ball inside better than we have in any of our games we’ve played. That’s a work in progress and I have no doubt we’ll continue to develop and get smoother at being able to do that.”
As noted above Long Beach State was down to just nine players, and it didn’t help matters that leading scorer James Ennis sat the first five-plus minutes as punishment for being late for the team bus.
But he was on the floor when Arizona put together their first run to establish a solid working margin, as they went on an 18-3 run to take a 37-16 lead with 7:10 remaining in the half.
From that point Arizona would lead by no fewer than 11 points, extended their lead to as many as 30 in the second half.
Senior wing Solomon Hill became the program’s 47th player to reach the 1,000-point mark and finished the game with 15 points, but the fact that he shot just 2-of-8 from the field (11-of-11 FT) didn’t matter. When you can go ten deep and have players like Kevin Parrom come off the bench and knock down four three-pointers, it becomes far easier to account for one player’s off night.
While Arizona certainly had stretches of excellent play there are things to work on, most notably their three-point defense. Long Beach State knocked down 14 shots from distance, essentially keeping the game from getting really out of hand.
“Giving up 14 threes is bad. It wasn’t that they got hot; they earned it,” noted Miller. “But it’s not just Long Beach. If you look at the two exhibition games and three regular season games we’ve played, that’s a problem right now.
“And with this break that’s a big focus for us, to be able to take away the three-point shot not at the expense of the other things we’re doing well but just [to] improve that.”
Defending the three isn’t an issue along the lines of what Arizona attempted to navigate last season, and when you’ve got ten talented players at your disposal it becomes easier to find answers to some of the issues that will pop up during games.
And given the youth of some of the players in the rotation, Arizona’s bound to get better as the season wears on.