Arizona Basketball

Brand(on) New Optimism: Arizona Wildcats Guards Randolph, Williams Lead Team to 3-0 Start

Sean Miller turns 50 on Saturday.

He achieved his 250th win at Arizona with the Wildcats’ 79-46 rout of UTEP on Wednesday night.

Arizona has won 50 straight non-conference games at home. The Wildcats’ last non-conference home loss was in 2011 against San Diego State when the Aztecs outlasted Arizona 61-57.

Those figures are nice and impressive, but the number of the night: Brandon Williams’ zero turnovers again. He has a 14-to-0 assist-to-turnover ratio in the Wildcats’ 3-0 start.

Williams has logged 82 minutes against Houston Baptist, Cal Poly and UTEP and has not committed a turnover.

“That’s astonishing because the way he plays isn’t safe,” Miller said in the postgame press conference.

Miller is not being unkind. Williams is a true freshman and he plays aggressively.

Williams had only one assist against UTEP but he matched Brandon Randolph with a game-high 21 points. His eight assists with no turnovers against Cal Poly on Sunday was the first such performance for a freshman at Arizona since Khalid Reeves had eight assists without a turnover against Iowa State on Dec. 29, 1990.

Arizona freshman guard Brandon Williams tied teammate Brandon Randolph with a game-high 21 points against UTEP (Arizona Athletics photo)

“It says a lot about his intelligence as a player,” Miller said of Williams’ lack of turnovers. “He doesn’t force things. … He takes what the defense gives. Sometimes you don’t see a guard get that until they are long gone from college. He almost has that right now.”

Williams’ error-free style of play was symbolic of the Wildcats’ execution on Wednesday. They had only six turnovers against the Miners (1-2). UTEP committed 22 turnovers. Arizona had a 15-2 points-off-turnovers advantage.

“I’m just trying to make the right play and taking what the defense gives no matter if it’s me scoring or me getting assists,” Williams said. “I just happened to not turn the ball over, so that’s pretty good.”

Added Randolph, “He’s doing what the defense gives him and it’s really fun to play with him. He’s a smart freshman and he is going to get better as the season goes and I am excited to see where he goes.”

Duke transfer Chase Jeter added 15 points, five rebounds and two blocked shots for the Wildcats. Pitt graduate transfer Ryan Luther had only three points off two field goal attempts — a drastically low amount of shots that Miller said Arizona must correct for Luther.

UTEP was led by Paul Thomas’ 14 points and six rebounds, but his six turnovers matched Arizona as a team. Efe Odigie had a double-double (13 points and 11 rebounds) for the Miners, who are playing under former Fresno State coach Rodney Terry after former USC coach Tim Floyd resigned during the season last year.

UTEP shot 33.3 percent from the field while Arizona shot 49.2 percent despite making only 4 of 16 shots from 3-point range. The Wildcats went inside often in the second half to pull away, making 14 of 21 (66.7 percent) of their shots inside the arc.

“I love the fact that we have a group of guys who are playing really hard,” Miller said. “They’re playing with tremendous effort and they’re playing the game to win. We’re far from perfect but I like our hustle.”

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Of his 250th win at Arizona, Miller said, “It doesn’t mean much at Arizona. With Coach (Lute) Olson, I probably have, what, 300 left to come close to him? The bar is pretty high there.”

Miller is 250-74 in his 10th season as Arizona’s head coach. Olson was 589-187 in 24 seasons as Arizona’s coach.

Arizona never trailed after scoring the game’s first eight points Wednesday. The Wildcats took their biggest lead of the first half, an 11-point margin at 34-23, when Williams made a jumper in the lane with 46 seconds left.

After UTEP trimmed the lead to 34-28 with 19:19 left in the second half, the Wildcats went on a 10-2 run to take control of the game with a 44-30 lead with 16:10 remaining. The Miners went without a field goal in 4 minutes, 26 seconds in that stretch.

Arizona next plays in the Maui Invitational beginning Monday against Iowa State.

“Don’t beat yourself, whatever you’re good at, make sure you show up,” Miller said about playing in a tough Maui field that includes Duke, Xavier, Auburn and San Diego State. “We’ve been really good at taking care of the ball. It will be interesting to see if at the end of that tournament if that holds. If it does, that’s a great sign.

“We’re worried about our rebounding (only a 36-35 edge over UTEP). It will be interesting to see if we have more confidence when that tournament ends in that area. Until you play the games, you don’t really know.”

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