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Sean Miller: Arizona Wildcats’ freshmen ‘greatest kids in the world’

Kaleb Tarczewski

Kaleb Tarczewski goes up and under for two points at Washington on Thursday. Photo by Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

There comes a time in every season when freshmen stop being freshmen, and Arizona coach Sean Miller says his young ‘uns have reached the tipping point.

He talked to his freshman quartet about that on the Washington road trip as the Wildcats swept the two games for the first time since 2006.

“All that experience will start to benefit us, and the biggest reason is they’re the greatest kids in the world and they work so hard,” Miller said Saturday night on his postgame radio show on 1290-AM after a 79-65 victory over Washington State.

“It’s just a matter of time as they continue to get better.”

Center Kaleb Tarczewski (6.2 points, 5.8 rebounds per game) is in his best stretch of the season. He has scored 10 points — matching his career high — in three consecutive games.

“The team is doing a great job of getting me the ball in positions I can score,” Tarczewski said in a postgame interview with 1290-AM’s Matt Muehlebach.

“Coach has been calling a few plays to get me the ball down low, and I’m trying to capitalize on that unselfishness by the rest of the team.”

Also encouraging is that Tarczewski made 10 of 11 free throws on the road trip. He has been the weak link on the best free-throw shooting team in the Pac-12 (75.8 percent) but has pulled his number up to 60.7 percent.

“He’s shooting free throws now like he’s capable of, like we have seen him do so many times in practice,” Miller said.

Power forward Brandon Ashley is the leading scorer among the four freshmen, averaging 7.9 points and matching Tarczewski with 5.8 rebounds per game. Ashley is shooting a team-best 54.4 percent and showed a nice mid-range game against Washington State.

He also has hit 3 of 3 3-pointers, but the long-range shooter among the big men is Grant Jerrett, who has made 16 of 47 shots (34.0 percent) from behind the arc. He hasn’t been as comfortable as Ashley in other parts of the game, though, although his length and athleticism is making him a formidable shot blocker.

Jerrett swatted six shots at Oregon State on Jan. 12 and had four blocks at Washington State. He also had five rebounds as he played a career-high 28 minutes Saturday night, taking advantage of team-wide foul trouble and Kevin Parrom’s ejection.

“It’s just a matter of time before Grant establishes himself,” Miller said.

And guard Gabe York has elbowed his way into the discussion, getting a handful of minutes in each of the past three games. He hit a 1 of 3 3-pointers vs. the Cougars.

Individually, none is a immediate superstar but they combine to average 22.9 points and 16.0 rebounds per game and — this is critical — they haven’t been headache-inducing problems.

Contrast that to last season, with eventually-booted point guard Josiah Turner and big man Sidiki Johnson, who bailed after less than a semester. Turner is on his third pro team already and Johnson is off the Providence team to deal with personal problems, tweeted CBSSports.com’s Jeff Goodman on Sunday.

“They are really the least of my concerns,” Miller said of his freshmen last week.

“One of the many positive attributes of this year’s team is that the four freshmen, those guys really handle their business. They work hard every day. … They’re eager to learn. They practice hard, whether we win or whether we lose.

“So many times, whether they personally played well or didn’t play well, they’re the same.”

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