Sean Miller said the “bigger the moment” the better Justin Coleman is.
Saturday afternoon Arizona needed a big moment – any moment would have sufficed.
Coleman looked and, well, found his inner self and shot the ball that made the difference in Arizona’s 70-68 win over UC-Davis at McKale Center.
As Miller said, “he had no choice” because it was a “scramble play. You just don’t want your guys to panic.”
“He seems to rise to the challenge,” Miller said of Coleman. “He has had a very important role in our non-conference season. We want him to be aggressive and shoot when he has the opportunity. He does a great job of getting in the lane and (making) people better. He is one of the team’s best shooters.”
Saturday not so much, but all it took was one shot.
And, well, Coleman saved Arizona in what would have been the biggest upset Arizona would have had to deal with in more than 35 years – at least in memory – when Coleman’s shot went in with five seconds on the shot clock and one minute left in the game.
Arizona survived – yes, survived – UC Davis (does that even sound right?) in McKale. Say that a few times in a row.
Miller eventually said they “were lucky and very fortunate to win.”
It was Coleman’s only make in four attempts. As he said he’s a senior, so he knows not to “get too high and not to get too low and to play the game to the end.”
Chase Jeter said Coleman is “a tough dude.”
“My teammates believe in me, my coaches believe in me and I believe in myself as well,” Coleman said after finishing with four points. “I decided to take the shot and I made it.”
And kept Arizona from losing for the second time in a week at McKale.
“Big shot,” said teammate Chase Jeter after Coleman spoke. “Big shot.”
Coleman promptly said, “Thanks.”
That’s how likely 12,000 fans felt after he hit the shot and then survived UC Davis’ Printup Roger’s last-ditch attempt to either tie it or win it.
It was that crazy of an early evening for the Wildcats, who went into the game a 17-point favorite. Instead, the Aggies had the Wildcats against the ropes for the final 15 minutes of the game.
That after Arizona had held a 15-point lead late into the first half.
“Just the flow of the game … things change,” Jeter said. “(T.J. Shorts II) is a great player, man. I was having trouble with that ball screen all night. Give credit to him, to their team. He’s a great player.”
And easily the best player on the court on Saturday. Short, all 5-feet-9 of him, baffled the Cats with to-the-basket moves and jumpers. He finished with 25 points.
Size, er, Short mattered.
“Tough team,” Coleman said. “It was tough challenge for us.”
The win clearly beats the alternative, something Arizona couldn’t afford given its record going into the break next week. UA is 9-4 overall with Colorado lurking on Jan. 3.
“It’s a good feeling to get a win like this,” Jeter said. “We can step away and get geared up to go against Colorado.”
Better to be in a game like this – a close one – than a 20-point blowout like so many here have been, save for the Baylor game?
“We can learn from this game for sure,” Coleman said. “We’re going to enjoy the four days for break. (We will) watch film and just learn from it. We learned from the Baylor game and rebounding. We will learn from the UC Davis game. We’re learning as it goes.”
How quick that learning curve will occur is anyone’s guess. Miller continues to use the 2018=19 season motto: Little room for error. He has said that from the very first game to Saturday night.
And it’s true.
Arizona. Needs. Everyone. And. Everything.
UC Davis falls 0-2 to the Miller brothers. Nearly a month to the day, the Aggies led Indiana up until 5:50 left to play in the game. Archie's Hoosiers won 76-62.
— Damien Alameda (@DAlamedaKOLD) December 23, 2018
Saturday night it didn’t all happen. It didn’t have an answer for Shorts II and the overall defense was lacking.
“We have no room for error, we have to do things right,” Miller said. “We have to play with great effort, togetherness. We can’t have a single player who worries about being taken out of the game or shots (or) any disfunction.”
Miller said even though his team had an 11-point lead at halftime (41-30) it always felt tentative.
“That’s something we will address and already have,” he said.
What he added that what’s non-negotiable is the team having to play hard, with great effort, concentrating and playing a team game. It worked in spurts but was good enough to win.
“I’m thrilled that we were able to win the game and to learn a few lessons.”