Elite Eight: Bench matchup Arizona Wildcats vs. Connecticut Huskiesby Javier Morales on Mar. 26, 2011, under Sports
FOLLOW JAVIER MORALES ON TWITTER: @JavierJMorales
A look at what to expect from the reserves Thursday at approximately 6:45 p.m., Tucson time, at Anaheim between No. 5-seed Arizona (29-7) and No. 1 seed Duke (32-4) in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament:
What’s going right: UConn coach Jim Calhoun calls on three players the most off his bench — freshman point guard Shabazz Napier (who figures to replace Kemba Walker as the starter next season), sophomore forward Jamal Coombs-McDaniel and 7-foot center Charles Okwandu. These three are all talented. Napier averages 3.2 assists in 23.6 minutes a game. He also is second in steals with 62 behind Walker’s 73. Coombs-McDaniel is an inside-outside threat of a forward who has similar numbers to starter Roscoe Smith. Okwandu, a senior who is a one-time Arizona recruiting target, averages 2.9 points and 2.8 rebounds a game and is second on the team with 47 blocked shots. A Nigerian, Okwandu originally signed a letter of intent with Arizona in 2005 but visa problems prevented him from arriving in Tucson.
What’s going wrong: Coombs-McDaniel, Napier and two other reserves — freshman wing Nies Giffey and shooting guard Donnell Beverly — have struggled from three-point range shooting 31.4 percent (82 of 261).
UConn coach Jim Calhoun said Friday: “We talk as coaches about chemistry, right before your eyes you’re seeing a bunch of young guys who truly believe in each other and that’s a common myth, and I have them believing that no one gave them any respect early which is true and you have to earn respect all along the way, and they’ve done that.”
What’s going right: Reserve point guard Jordin Mayes has yet to miss a three-pointer in the NCAA Tournament, making all six attempts. He has made 9 of 13 field-goal attempts (69.2 percent) and all three of his free throw attempts. He made only 44 percent of his free throw attempts before March Madness. Kevin Parrom continues to shoot a good percentage (51.2 percent) and he is third on the team with 75 assists. Jamelle Horne has only one turnover in 45 minutes played in the NCAA tournament. Brendon Lavender has more points (10) than starter Jesse Perry (nine) has in the tourney despite playing only 19 minutes compared to 67 by Perry. And Kyryl Natyazhko may not be posting significant numbers, but his steady, intelligent play on defense has been a lift for Arizona.
What’s going wrong: Mayes can be feast or famine behind three-point line, actually shooting better from there than inside the stripe. He shoots a very respectable 47 percent (39 of 83) from three-point range. Inside the arc, he is shooting 41.5 percent (27 of 65). As he gains more experience, he will be more confident penetrating and becoming more of a multi-dimensional threat. He is on his way to being that way now as a freshman.
UA coach Sean Miller said Friday: “One of the things you can’t lose sight of is we play two point guards, the split isn’t 35 minutes to 5, Jordin Mayes has played in all games we’ve played, and he’s averaged in most regards 14, 15 minutes where MoMo (Jones) is at 25. Great example is Jordin’s play against Texas is one of the reasons we were able to come here to California. He had a career high of 15, 16 points, made nine 3s in a row. So some of what makes us a good team is MoMo and Jordin compliment each other very well. Some of the strengths that Jordin has on offense are very different than MoMo’s, and it’s that forty minutes that we try to evaluate our point guards on, and if you look at it from that perspective, I would agree that that position is the most important. When that position plays well for us, that’s one of the keys to us winning.”
Who has the edge? Arizona. Napier is a better-than-average playmaker for UConn and Coombs-McDaniel and Okwandu can be productive on the boards. Arizona’s reserves, however, have contributed enough to be the reason why the Wildcats have advanced, as Miller said, in this tournament. The steady play of Mayes, Parrom, Horne and Natyazhko, especially, is a result of Miller frequently playing 10 players each game most of the season.
NEXT BLOG: THE COACHING MATCHUP AND THE FINAL OUTCOME