This was Arizona’s get-well game. Wait, more specifically get-well-or-else game.
At few other points in the last few seasons has there been a more important game – no matter the opponent – than Wednesday night’s game against Montana.
Arizona needed to recover from its psychological hangover from Saturday. Didn’t it?
Arizona came through – after a suspect first half – to get a 61-42 win at McKale Center for its eighth win in 12 games. That just sounds weird. Eight wins in 12 games. But that’s where Arizona is right now with one game left before an important Pac-12 Conference season.
But this is where we are when it comes to Arizona basketball – Every. Game. Is. A. Must. Win.
Hyperbole? Maybe. Realistic. Damn straight. After Saturday night’s massacre – on the boards not on the scoreboard although it felt like it – Arizona N-E-E-D-E-D a win.
“Nobody felt good about what we did against Baylor, some of it was self-inflicted and some of it was a matter of circumstances,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “We controlled the response and moved forward … “
He continued to explain the team and the circumstances – four minutes, 20 seconds later and kind of joked about it to say, “To answer your question with the most long-winded answer ever, we worked hard to bounce back and now we have to do it again on Saturday (vs. UC-Davis).”
Arizona did something it really hadn’t done all season: go to its big man – Chase Jeter – often. Strategy worked in as much as Jeter went 9 for 15 from the floor to finish with 21 points. He added six rebounds.
“I do think that if we can get him the ball consistently,” Miller said, “that good things will happen.”
It surely did on Wednesday.
“We have to continue to develop him,” Miller said.
What Jeter did was over shadow Arizona’s continued shooting issues. As a team UA shot 44.4 percent (good enough to win) but remove Jeter’s numbers and it shot 15 for 45 or 33 percent (a percent that isn’t good enough to win). It included a 2 for 12 night from the 3-point line.
Miller said, at the beginning of the season, he did think shooting from the perimeter would be an issue.
“I do think we can hit our stride and where we have a lot of guys who are taking and making good shots,” Miller said. “But that’s part of it. Some of it is coaching. And some of it is guys playing with confidence. It’s tough to make bad shots.”
Miller said he thought his team as many as 17 bad shots vs. Baylor. “That’s as many bad shots you can take in a single game,” Miller said.
“We took much better shots tonight,” he continued. “We took a few bad ones. We had 16 turnovers, so that hurt us.”
But in stepped Jeter for the rescue. Every point of his but three were in the paint, including two dunks.
Size mattered vs. Montana. So, Arizona used its advantage with Jeter.
“I think it was one of the key points regarding their size,” Jeter said. “Montana is missing a great player (center Jamar Akoh). Their five man is good, and he sat out (injured) … My teammates did a good job of finding me when I was open and having the confidence in me to score.”
Montana coach Travis DeCuire said his intention was to double-team Jeter to make it difficult but …
“We forced him into some tough shots early,” he said, “but then he got comfortable.”
Miller said Jeter will eventually get used to the double teams.
Can Arizona get used to playing better? Harder?
Miller has been clear to say his team has little room for error. It survived 16 turnovers against Montana, although it looked shaky in the first half. But he liked how hard the team played and its effort.
“Our guys gave it everything they have tonight,” Miller said. “Montana didn’t have a bad night. They are a very good basketball team, but we worked hard defensively and made it tough. Coming off the Baylor game you don’t really know what to expect. We were connected, and a lot of guys did a great job.”
They had to, after all, it was their get-well game.
Miller said he didn’t start freshman guard Brandon Williams because Williams banged knees with Justin Coleman before the Baylor game and wasn’t right health-wise. He’s easing back and should be fine to go on Saturday vs. UC Davis. Miller called it a contusion.
“He’s structurally sound,” Miller said. “He has no injury.”
• Devonaire Doutrive played 7 ½ minutes and could play more as the season progresses.
“He has innate confidence,” Miller said. “The better days are ahead for Devonaire. It was good to get him in the game. Confidence is a big deal and he has it.”
But he still needs to get better on defense.
• Senior Ryan Luther continues to struggle from the floor. He went 1 for 6, including 1 for 3 from the 3-point line.
“Ryan has to play with a belief and a confidence,” Miller said. “He had six rebounds, but he’s one of our team’s best shooters … Before he came here, he scored around the basket. I know he can do it … He’s in his own head right now. The only thing that solves that right now is hard work.”