Arizona basketball: Cats could pick up the pace in Pac-12 play - Tucson News Now

Arizona basketball: Cats could pick up the pace in Pac-12 play

Kobi Simmons gives Arizona upgraded athleticism over last season. (Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics) Kobi Simmons gives Arizona upgraded athleticism over last season. (Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics)
TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Arizona Wildcats coach Sean Miller isn't known for his frenetic, fast-paced offenses, but this season's team has the right pieces.

Well, HAD the pieces.

"We're not playing as fast as we have been or would have wanted to," said Miller, whose team opens Pac-12 play Friday night at Cal.

"For that matter, when you plan out what you're going to do ... it's been the furthest thing from how we envisioned it because of the losses we've had in terms of player."

The infusion of athletic perimeter freshmen Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons, an expanded role for slippery-fast point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright and a quartet of non-lumbering big men made the Wildcats a quicker team than last season.

By now, you know the team's health/eligibility problems, so Miller has had to say "whoa" much more than "giddy-up."

Arizona is 288th out of 351 Division I teams in terms of tempo, with 67.5 possessions per 40 minutes, according to KenPom.com

"Yeah, we walk the ball up at times. We're patient," Miller said.

"When you play with seven players, each game is different, because most of the time, you're not playing with seven. One of the seven is in foul trouble. One of the seven fouls out. So, you're really dealing with six.

"We have made many decisions in the course of the last month to slow the ball down. You can sense sometimes that our team runs out of gas, so even if you wanted to push it, that wouldn't be in our best interests; the results would not be good for us."

Tempo, of course, isn't everything.

Washington plays at the second-fastest pace in the Pac-12 but has underachieved to a 7-5 mark with no quality wins. Arizona State goes at the third-fastest tempo but enters conference play at 7-6.

The nation's slowest team -- 11th-ranked Virginia -- is 11-1 and coming off a win over No. 6 Louisville on Wednesday night. The nation's second-slowest team -- Saint Mary's -- is 10-1 and ranked 19th in the AP poll, one spot behind Arizona.

Only one Miller team at Arizona -- his first -- ranked in the national 100 in tempo. That squad checked in at No. 99. So, no, the Wildcats aren't suddenly going to turn into the run-and-gun outfits of the Lute Olson days.

But with Jackson-Cartwright returning soon -- and maybe Allonzo Trier, who knows? -- Arizona will be able to pick and choose when it wants to slam the accelerator and be more aggressive on both ends of the court.

"I like that we've played it smart," Miller said of the slow pace through an 11-2 non-conference schedule.

"We played to win. We played to be the best we can be with the team that we have. Really, I think that's the responsibility that you have as a coach, and it's the responsibility that the need needs to share -- that maybe the things you would like to do, you can't."

RETURN OF RABB

Cal sophomore forward Ivan Rabb was projected as an NBA lottery pick last season, and he is again for 2017, rated No. 11 in a mock draft by DraftExpress.com. (The website lists Arizona freshman Lauri Markkanen at No. 8.)

Rabb (6-11, 220) is averaging 14.6 points and 9.2 rebounds, despite missing a couple of games due to a toe injury.

"One striking feature about him is he is equally adept left-handed and right-handed," Miller said.

"When he was a younger player, he would shoot free throws with either hand. He's really ambidextrous. He truly is. Some people talk about it, but they aren't. He can score and do different things left- and right-handed, and that causes problems for the defense."

Most players in Rabb's situation would have gone for the NBA money after last season, but Miller -- who unsuccessfully tried to recruit Rabb -- said the forward "beats to his own drum."

"He kind of listens to himself as much as he listens to other people, which I think is the exception sometimes rather than the rule," Miller said. "For him to look at his situation and feel like another year or two -- whatever it is going to be -- is going to benefit him, my hat's off to him."

BEWARE THE BEARS' D

Cal has Rabb, high-scoring freshman guard Charlie Moore (16.1 points per game) and senior guard Jabari Bird, who is a high-volume 3-point shooter.

What Miller likes best about the Bears (9-3) is their defense.

"They are a physical, tough-minded, well-coached, disciplined team," Miller said.

"They take great pride in defense; they take great pride in rebounding, getting stops. They play a very rugged, physical, man-to-man defense. They're hard to score on."

Cal is allowing opponents to shoot just 36.6 percent from the field (sixth nationally) and 28.9 percent from 3-point range (22nd nationally).

The Bears don't have a signature victory this season, but battled Virginia last week before losing 56-52 at home.

"They were both great on defense," Miller said. "It's just that the ball bounced Virginia's way on a couple of possessions."

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