I’d say the loudest McKale Center got Saturday night was when Nick Johnson shook free for an open drive and a reverse dunk (video below).
I’d say the second loudest was when a backup post player averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds entered the game with 8:25 left in the first half.
And perhaps the third loudest moment came when a backup freshman guard who hadn’t played in the six previous Pac-12 games, nailed a 3-point shot.
It was that kind of night for the Arizona Wildcats, with their easy 74-50 victory giving coach Sean Miller the opportunity to use the ninth and 10th players in his rotation — sophomore Angelo Chol and freshman Gabe York.
Afterward, Miller delivered one of the best anecdotes of the season, and it will only serve to make Chol more of a fan favorite than he already is.
Miller said he had Chol in his office last week to talk about his role and to reinforce the coaching staff’s belief in the athletic, but still raw, basketball talent.
“He said, ‘Coach, as long as we’re winning, you never have to talk to me,’” Miller said.
“Some guys might say that and then as soon as they leave, they’re on a different path,” Miller added with a chuckle. “Angelo is really on that path. Angelo’s future is extremely bright. What you see now and what you can see down the road is going to be two different things, I promise you that.”
Chol had played only nine minutes through six conference games before Saturday, stuck behind freshman big men Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett. And the squeeze is really on when Miller uses a smaller lineup with only one true post player.
Chol had one point, two rebounds and a block vs. USC. His role doesn’t figure to change dramatically the rest of this season, but Miller doesn’t have to worry about the sophomore’s attitude.
As for York, anybody who covers Arizona basketball has repeatedly heard this question in recent weeks: “Why isn’t he playing more?”
Miller’s self-evident answer to this point: He hasn’t been good enough.
York played the final 8:11 of Saturday’s game, hitting 2 of 5 3-point shots and finishing with seven points.
“I talked to Gabe a long time ago and continue to reinforce this: He has worked very hard in practice and has a great attitude, but the way you break through in his situation is to get in a game like tonight and make everyone see that ball go in and say, ‘Wow, that looked easy,’” Miller said.
“He can really score.”
If the 6-2 York takes minutes away from anybody, it would be Jordin Mayes, the backup point guard who has struggled with the one thing he probably does best — shoot the 3-ball. (He’s down to 25.8 percent.)
If Miller sits Mayes, then Nick Johnson (maybe even Solomon Hill?) would have to take over point guard duties for those usually short stretches when Mark Lyons is out of the game. York might have the size of a point guard, but he doesn’t have those skills right now.
We’ll see how it all plays out.
“For us, we’re always trying to make our team better,” Miller said.
“What worked two weeks ago may not work two weeks from now. It was great to see him (York) shoot the ball like the did. More important than that, I watch him every day, and he’s continued to work very hard in practice.
“Gabe is in a really good mindset. He’s a big, big part of our future. That’s not just me talking. Just fast forward to a year from now and think about who we lose and the role he can have.”
York’s defense, often cited as a reason for him staying on the bench, “has improved by leaps and bounds,” Miller said. The coached added there is no reason for York not to at least go hard defensively in what would be small windows of playing time moving forward through the rest of the season.
All in all, this is a nice “problem” for Miller to have. He has been using an eight-man rotation — which is certainly not unusual and very much in line with how Lute Olson would manage a team — with a couple of other guys pushing for playing time and maintaining a positive outlook.
“They’re definitely two very talented players,” Ashley said of Chol and York. “On any other team, they could get major minutes. We’re just such a deep team it’s hard for everyone to get into the game and play a huge role.”