The game started with a bent rim that delayed the game by about 15 minutes. And then, well, seemingly it went downhill from there … at least in the first half.
It was that kind of night for the Arizona Wildcats and Houston Baptist.
The first half may have set basketball back a few decades given the two teams seemingly played with bad – tight? – rims for the first 20 minutes. And someone must have greased the ball to begin the game, given all the missed shots and mishandled opportunities.
Arizona did, eventually, work out the nervousness to get the 90-60 win over Houston Baptist at McKale Center.
But even Sean Miller even felt the overall play in the first half was a bit, um, off. The teams bumbled and stumbled their way to a low-scoring 33-24 half time game. Arizona had the lead, by the way.
“It was (different),” Miller said in his postgame press conference. “There were a lot of fouls in the first half and a couple of times we didn’t convert. We didn’t have a great deal of confidence (but) that’s who we are right now.”
That would be a group of guys who are playing together for the first time, he said.
“Once we go through experiences, we will improve,” Miller said.
Don’t expect a meteoric rise anytime soon. And although he didn’t say it – and he always said it at this time of the year even with the very good teams he’s had – it’s “a work in progress.”
No truer words could be spoken with this group. It’s going to take some time. How much is anyone’s guess.
One reporter went as far as asking if it was too early to talk about a team identity.
“It takes awhile to figure that out,” Miller said. “What we want and what’s going to happen could be two different things.”
He did say he has good kids and good guys that are coachable and like each other.
“How that all comes together,” Miller said, “we will see.”
Arizona’s debut Wednesday night showed baby steps will be progress, although Brandon Randolph continued to shine.
He had 25 points on 8 for 12 shooting.
Arizona needed him from start to finish, given what happened in the first half.
Arizona hit 37.5 percent from the floor and had 10 turnovers in the first half. Arizona seemed to struggle with the smaller, lower-level Huskies just enough to cause concern. Heck, Arizona’s lead was just 20-14 with six minutes left in the half.
It a ballooned – yes, ballooned – to 10 later in the half but the struggled continued.
“I just felt we were a little bit nervous,” said Randolph. “They came out to play. We definitely have to credit them.”
Truthfully, he was being kind. After all, this was Houston Baptist, a team with a lower-than-low RPI last year and a team without its star player.
And, yet Arizona struggled.
More numbers? It was 2 for 8 from beyond the 3-point line and was 13-18 from the free throw line. Houston Baptist had eight second chance points to Arizona’s four. And its bench had 15 points to Arizona’s nine.
Then came the second half where they “attacked” as sophomore reserve guard Alex Barcello said.
Brandon Randolph checks out with 25 points. Definitely going to be one of Arizona's most important players this year
— GOAZCATS.com (@GOAZCATScom) November 8, 2018
It was a slow attack that turned into an all-out blitz that saw Arizona’s lead grow from nine points to 20 and later to its biggest lead of the game with 2:32 when it was up 83-51 on a Randolph layup.
They did it by wearing out Houston Baptist and, well, playing better. As Miller said they did a much better job of “taking care of the ball in the second half” by committing just two turnovers.
It hit 15 of 18 free throws in the second half to finish 28 for 36. Miller called that “one of the highlights.”
There were others as well, but they were not jaw dropping. Center Chase Jeter scored 11 points and pulled down 10 rebounds for his first double-double as a Wildcat. He went 4 for 5 from the floor. Nine of the rebounds were on the defensive end.
Miller said Jeter “had some good moments (but) the best is yet to come. I don’t think he scratched the surface.”
Much like this team he must work with this season. Baby steps, everyone baby steps.