It’s not clear if Arizona coach Sean Miller is a patient man but this season – at least in the beginning – will test him.
“I don’t know,” he said when I asked him about being a patient man, “but I’ll have to be with this team.”
It’s quite apparent after UA struggled a bit with visiting Chaminade, 75-64, in McKale Center in Arizona’s final exhibition game before Wednesday’s season opener vs. Houston Baptist.
But isn’t it better to go against a team that will expose some flaws than compared to some team you beat by 25? Such was the case on Sunday night when Arizona struggled at times and then didn’t at times in the win.
With 10 minutes left in the game, UA and the Silverswords were tied at 46 with the hosts, bringing back shade of what made Chaminade famous in the first place – being a Division 1 team early in the season (like it did in beating then No. 1 Virginia in the early 1980s when it had Ralph Sampson).
Instead, UA found its footing – and its shot and some defense to outscore Chaminade 29-18 to get the victory.
Clearly, this isn’t Miller’s team from last year or the year before or the year before. This is a group of newcomers sprinkled in with some veterans that rarely saw the floor. A month into practice will hardly produce a potential Pac-12 Conference winning team. It’ll take time – lots of it.
That’s why I asked the patience question – twice.
“It certainly feels like it’s the first time for everything,” Miller said. “Even at the end of the game when you’re up nine points and under the two-minute mark, teams know how to win (because they’ve been there before). It’s not about scoring, it’s about protecting the ball. Running (clock) off and getting a really great shot or getting fouled. It’s not a time to take chances and we made those at the end.”
But that’s what the exhibition season is about, Miller said, and that will be addressed.
“We have a group of guys who are wanting to do well,” he said.
So, there’s that.
It’s very apparent he’ll have saviors – how often is anyone’s guess – in the Brandon’s William and Randolph, who combined for 42 points on 15 of 27 hooting. Williams scored a game-high 23 points and Randolph 19.
“I thought Brandon Randolph and Brandon Williams both had some great moments on offense,” Miller said. “They took good threes … both guys we really believe in as shooters. They were very efficient. They made big plays when they counted.”
It was Williams who got the team off to a good start – and kept UA in the hunt which is kind of weird to write given Arizona is the name team. But it took Williams’ 14 first half points to keep Arizona’ close. UA held a 31-29 lead at the half.
“I’m just taking shots, one that I’m capable of making,” Williams said. “J Cole will find me and if I’m open, I’m going to shoot it.”
Williams had a better first half than a second half, but he was clearly the player of the game, playing the most minutes on the team as well (33 minutes)
“That’s when I started going to the rim,” Williams said of the second half. “Fatigue plays a factor as well. Getting to the rim and getting fouled and putting pressure on (the) defense,”
But that’s a big part of this game – playing down hill (pushing the ball forward with aggressiveness). He showed that Sunday night.
“It’s a lot of my game, not all shooting but getting in the paint and looking for guys and creating for my teammates as well,” Williams said.
And so, he did. He added three assists.
“He’s a prolific scorer so it makes my job easier,” said senior guard Justin Coleman, speaking of Williams. “It’s a lot more exciting to play with a guy like him.”
And whatever makes life easier for everyone that’s good, too. Perhaps the coach, too.
“We have to learn how to play with great effort for 40 minutes on defense,” Miller said. “It’s not an easy thing. Experienced teams, really talented teams, maybe some of the best defensive teams we’ve had, if you judge them by the month of November, we were still a work in progress.