Citizen Staff Writer
SUNDAY: FRESNO ST. (5-4) AT NO. 21 UA (6-2), 1 P.M.; TV: FSNA; RADIO: 1290 AM
When it comes to Arizona sophomore Jordan Hill, Saturday’s 23-point outing against Illinois was what the coach ordered.
“You could tell in practice he was up a notch (in intensity),” interim head coach Kevin O’Neill said. “It’s just in time.”
And about time.
Hill’s breakout performance – he added 14 rebounds and three blocks – showed how crucial he is to the No. 21-ranked Wildcats if he can stay out of foul trouble. He played a career-high 41 minutes Saturday as UA won 78-72 in overtime.
Until the trip to Chicago, Hill had limited impact because of his penchant for bad defensive decisions. He had four fouls against Illinois, but No. 4 didn’t come until midway through overtime.
“That’s a big thing,” O’Neill said of Hill staying out of foul trouble. “He’s still developing as a player; he’s still learning what’s a foul and what’s not a foul. That’s going to be important for his development because you can’t rebound or score much when you’re on the bench.”
Hill, a 6-foot-10 center/forward, is too important to UA’s success to be there. Against Illinois, he proved what he’s capable of doing. So where was THAT Jordan Hill?
“I don’t know where he’s at,” Hill said, smiling.
At least we know he’s in on the action. He has that type of game in him – and it came against a quality opponent.
“He really stepped up big,” said teammate Chase Budinger. “The best part about him was in huddles when he was telling everybody he wanted the ball. That gives him confidence.”
For a young player who hasn’t had much experience or exposure in games, that’s critical. O’Neill has said much has been expected of Hill, who came on the scene last season and played well, perhaps with no worry about the situation.
This season, people have been expecting the same results and now his role has changed. He’s THE guy near the basket. The pressure on him has increased.
“He’s laid-back but a hard-playing guy,” O’Neill said. “As he gets more experience, he’ll gain more confidence and as he gets more confidence, he’ll be more consistent.”
It helps that opponents are concentrating on stopping Budinger and Jerryd Bayless, freeing up Hill for big-game possibilities.
“He can be a fine player,” O’Neill said. “He’s obviously a guy who’s definitely not ready yet, but he’s a guy who could be playing for money someday.”
Steve Rivera’s e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
HILL’S BIG GAME
How 6-10 sophomore forward Jordan Hill fared at Illinois compared to his average statistics this season:
41 Minutes 26.4
23 Points 12.9
14 Rebounds 5.6
66.6 Field goal % 66.1
77.7 Free throw % 78.1
3 Blocks 1.5