Depth, guard play make the difference for No. 12 Arizona

Associated Press
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TUCSON, Arizona — After winning 35 games and reaching the Elite Eight last season, No. 12 Arizona had to address the fact that four starters from that team had moved on.

And with three of those players currently in the NBA, addressing those losses would not be a simple task for Sean Miller and his coaching staff. But what will help in that quest is Arizona’s depth, and that attribute was on display Thursday night as they beat Boise State 88-76 in an unbracketed game in the Wooden Legacy.

On a night that saw senior center Kaleb Tarczewski account for just four points and nine rebounds and Ryan Anderson (15 rebounds) finish with only eight points on 4-for-13 shooting, other players managed to step forward. Dusan Ristic gave the Wildcats a valuable eight points and five rebounds off the bench, and Arizona’s guards stepped forward on both ends of the floor as well.

Of those perimeter players Gabe York led the way, scoring his 23 points (7-for-12 FG) on multiple levels and being a tough cover for Boise State’s guards. But the looks York managed to connect on would not have been present without the help of his teammates.

“Everyone did a great job of trying to find me, and when I took a bad shot, no one was upset because I think I shot the ball pretty well tonight,” York said after the game. “Parker (Jackson-Cartwright) found me a lot in transition. Kadeem (Allen) did a great job of finding me, and I was able to knock down shots.”

The 6-foot-3 senior guard is a prime example of what can happen when a player sticks to the process, steadily honing his skills and earning more playing time ahead of a final campaign in which the opportunities to score would be plentiful. After averaging 9.2 points per game as a junior York entered Thursday’s game as one of four Wildcats in double figures, and his performance was one reason why Arizona was able to gain some separation in the second half as the visiting Broncos became stagnant offensively.

York was one of four guards to finish the game in double figures Thursday night, but it could be argued that the most important of those contributions (with an eye towards the future) came from Jackson-Cartwright and Allen.

Those two have the difficult task of stepping into the lead guard role left vacant by the departure of McConnell, who was a floor general in every sense of the phrase. But for Arizona to be successful they don’t have to be McConnell, because Allen and Jackson-Cartwright’s respective games differ from the current Philadelphia 76er.

Against Boise State Jackson-Cartwright provided the early spark, coming off the bench to score 12 of his 14 points in the first half and providing a much-needed supplement to York’s offensive output. Allen grabbed the baton in the second half, tallying eight points (he finished with ten) and five assists (six for the game) with just one turnover. Add in Trier scoring 11 of his 13 in the second half, and Arizona had enough production to hold off Boise State’s two-headed front court monster of James Webb III (27 points, nine rebounds) and Nick Duncan (21 points).

“Parker was a big reason we won the game and so was Alonzo,” Miller said. “I talked to both guys after the game…I was disappointed in the way we finished the game with both of them in, because in my opinion if we didn’t have the performance from either one of them we would not have been in the winner’s circle.”

It is early in the season, but it’s apparent that instead of having that single stalwart to call upon at the point Arizona has two players capable of shepherding the team. Before the season began Allen was labeled by some as the “scoring” point guard with Jackson-Cartwright filling the role of distributor. But Thursday night both showed the ability to do things outside of the labels affixed to them, and that can only benefit the Wildcats moving forward.

“(Kadeem) makes me better every day, and I try to do the same with him,” Jackson-Cartwright said. “He is a bigger, stronger guard. He can get into the pain as well as shoot. Going against him every day has been tremendous in making me better.”

On a night in which their leading scorer entering the game shot 4-f0r-13 from the field, Arizona managed to shoot better than 54 percent from the field and 10-for-21 from beyond the arc. Add in a 38-3 edge in bench points, and it’s easy to see why the Wildcats were able to pull away from a game Boise State squad.

At this point in time Arizona may not have the decisive answers at some positions that are generally demanded in college basketball, but they do have a lot of options. And that’s a good “issue” to have if you’re Sean Miller.