Arizona coach Sean Miller, whose team desperately needs a win after losing four of five games, will play the two leading candidates for Pac-10 Player of the Year this week.
First up is Cal senior point guard Jerome Randle on Thursday.
“Jerome Randle is one of my favorite players that plays in the Pac-10. I love watching him play from an offensive perspective. I don’t know if there are many guards who bring to the table what he does at Cal,” Miller said on Tuesday’s Pac-10 coaches conference call with reporters.
“I mean, his shooting percentage is remarkable when you look at what he has shot from the 3 throughout his career and this year what he shoots from the foul line. The way he can shoot inside the arc for such a small player, and the way he makes his teammates better, he’s a really, really special player.”
Arizona held Randle to a quiet night in this season’s first meeting. Randle scored 15 points, but was just 5 of 14 from the field, including 1 of 8 from 3-point range.
But his UA counterpart, senior Nic Wise (another sub-6-foot point guard), knows the danger. Randle scored a then-career-high 31 against Arizona late last season, drilling 8 of 11 3-pointers.
This season, Randle is shooting 92 percent from the free throw line (104 of 113) and is shooting 40.9 percent from behind the arc, which is right at his career accuracy.
He is averaging 19.1 points and 4.2 assists in conference games, and he’d be a fine choice for league player of the year, especially because coaches tend to give extra weight to players who are on teams that win the league … or are in strong contention.
Cal, at 10-5 in the league, enters the week with a half-game lead over Arizona State (9-5).
Stanford senior forward Landry Fields leads the league in scoring (21.2 points per game in league play, which is the fairest way to compare players) and Randle is second. Fields is second in rebounding (8.5) and Randle is third in assists.
Fields had 31 points and 11 rebounds in Stanford’s loss at Arizona last month.
“I’ll put those two guys up against any players in the country in any conference in terms of their ability level at their respective positions and their experience,” Miller said. “They are both terrific, terrific players who deserve national recognition.”
Miller also mentioned Washington senior forward Quincy Pondexter “in that same category,” but it’s Randle and Fields who are the leading contenders for the Pac-10′s top honor.
And Arizona has to go through both to get back on track after losing four of five games since beating Cal on Jan. 31.