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The Mayes puzzle: Arizona junior guard solves confidence issue in March

Jordin Mayes

Jordin Mayes reacts after making a 3-pointer against Colorado at the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas. Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

It’s Mayes in March.

That’s a good thing for Jordin Mayes and the Arizona Wildcats, as the junior guard’s recent play is reminiscent of the finest slice of his college career, which came in March 2011.

He made 10 consecutive 3-point shots in that happy month, starting in the Pac-10 tournament and running through the Sweet 16 upset of Duke. One round earlier, he sweetly stroked in 4 of 4 shots from behind the arc against Texas — and the Cats needed every one of them in a 70-69 victory.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I guess I just like this time of year.”

Mayes has, once again, become an important reserve for Arizona after spending most of the season in a crater of lost confidence, a shooter reluctant to shoot, and shooting off target when he did.

He didn’t score as the Cats lost to UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals, but his previous three games — in which he scored 22 points after the calendar turned to March signaled that coach Sean Miller could trust him again.

“He’s like a new guy to me when I see him,” said senior guard Kevin Parrom.

“It looks like the Mayes we had at that Texas game. It all starts with confidence. He got down on himself, but now he’s back.”

The sixth-seeded Cats will see how much March magic he has left when they take on 11th-seeded Belmont in their opening game of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday from Salt Lake City (4:20 p.m. PT).

The Wildcats don’t need a lot out of Mayes, but on a team with little margin of error, they need all the production he can squeeze out of eight to 10 minutes in a game, either as a backup to point guard Mark Lyons or playing alongside him at shooting guard.

“When you think about conference and postseason tournaments, generally, there are guys on a team who come off the bench or players who aren’t the marquee matchup in the beginning of the game that just play really well,” Miller said.

“They can do it by shooting the ball really well. A couple of years ago against Texas, Jordin went 4-4 from three as a freshman. If you think how close that game was, it wasn’t Derrick Williams or the starting five that made the biggest difference. It was players like Jordin who came off the bench and were doing their job with confidence.

“He is one of many players right now that is playing their best basketball this season.”

Mayes said his father, Darryel Mayes — who played at El Camino Junior College in California and at UNLV — gave him sound technical advice. Get your elbow in. More fingertips on the ball. UA coaches worked with him on his arc.

And you know how shooting is. A few go in … and then a few more go in … and then you’re good.

“The sky’s the limit when my shot is falling,” he said. “It opens up my game and it opens up the game for other players as well.”

Mayes’ sophomore season never took flight, even though he started 16 times because of an unsettled point guard position. An offseason foot injury robbed him of valuable conditioning and practice time.

He averaged 4.7 points last season and shot 29.0 percent from 3-point range. As a freshman, he averaged 4.9 points and hit 45.3 percent from behind the arc.

Mayes’ numbers this season barely reach the radar — 2.7 points per game and 29.8 percent 3-point shooting. Miller tried to give his role away to freshman guard Gabe York a couple of times, but Mayes has gotten hot — at least a little — at the right time.

He says his defense has been solid all season, but it’s his 3-point shooting that everybody is watching. Can he hit a shot or two — or four — that could be the difference in a tournament game?

Arizona would love for it to be Texas all over again.

“I am better than I was in my freshman year,” Mayes said.

“Right now, I am playing good basketball and being productive, and early in the season, I wasn’t being productive.”

It wasn’t yet March.

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