Maybe now we know why Arizona senior guard Justin Coleman was named a team captain. He sure played like one Monday night in Maui.
The guard, who transferred from Samford, all but willed Arizona to a victory in the first round of the event, finishing with a team-high 18 points in Arizona’s 71-66 come-from-behind win against Iowa State.
Coleman had three huge plays that helped UA inch back in the second half from a 10-point deficit. Under the basket he faked one way and then went the other to get a score. He also drove inside and then stepped back for another.
Then, the coup de wow, he took the ball up-court and stopped well beyond the 3-point line and hit a go-ahead shot that gave UA some confidence and much-needed momentum. He scored nine consecutive points with Arizona down 56-54 with over five minutes left.
If only for a day – or a game, who knows? – Point Guard U found magic in its point guard. He had 15 of his 18 points in the second half.
“Justin Coleman has established himself as a guy who will play big in big games, it looks like,” said UA assistant coach Mark Phelps in Arizona’s postgame radio show.
Looks like, indeed.
Love to hear it. 🐻⬇️ pic.twitter.com/8h0IE5v9qh
Coleman, after three decent games leading up to Maui, played like he belonged among the best guards UA has had in Maui through the years. Khalid Reeves, Mike Bibby, Jason Gardner and Nick Johnson … at least he did for a half.
“I just had to get a feel for their defense, what’s open and how to get my teammate shots,” Coleman told the media at Maui. “… I was looking for my teammates, but things opened up for me, as well. I took shots that were open for me and they just happened to fall.”
He went 7 for 13 from the floor, including 4 for 8 from beyond the 3-point line in a team-high 34 minutes.
To this point in the season, Coleman had been showing his senior leadership on the court by directing his teammates and verbally getting after them. Monday it was by example offensively.
“When you set the example my making big plays, you give your team confidence and he did that,” Phelps said. “He had a stretch where he hit big shots. All our team felt that (leadership).”
All the starters scored in double figures in the gutty win. That proved to be good enough for Arizona, a team that fought back after being 10 points down with about 10 minutes left.
“We knew we’d find some things out about our team and what we did find is that this team does have some fight,” Phelps said. “We got out rebounded but found a way after playing not-so-good basketball.”
Phelps continued to say they found out a lot about the team as it played together and played hard.
Freshman guard Brandon Williams struggled offensively but finished with 14 points. He hit just 2 of 11 shots but hit 9 of 10 free throws.
Ryan Luther added 12 points and Brandon Randolph added 11 points.
“I’m just proud of our guys,” Coleman told reporters in Maui. “I feel like today just showed how we loved each other as brothers. I’d go to war for Chase, I’d go to war for any of those guys. Down the line even the managers and the coaches. So, it just shows the connection we have as a team because like you said, we got out-rebounded, we got down 10, but it showed the effort and the togetherness we had through adversity to get back and win the game.”
And that’s the sign of a good leader … praising everyone while others know you had a huge hand in the victory.