After the Arizona Wildcats turned another Division II scare into a nine-point victory Tuesday, forwards Solomon Hill and Jesse Perry enjoyed a brief light moment in their postgame interviews.
That wasn't exactly the behavior coach Sean Miller was hoping for, even if Perry did lead the Wildcats to a 60-51 exhibition win over Humboldt State with 12 points and 14 rebounds.
"There's no jokes with those guys," Miller said. "They need to get better. Nine turnovers between Solomon (four) and Jesse (five) - that's not going to beat anybody."
That includes Valparaiso, Arizona's opponent Monday for its regular-season opener.
The Wildcats improved somewhat defensively from their 69-68 loss to Division II Seattle Pacific on Thursday and crushed the Division II Lumberjacks of far northern California on the boards 49-23.
But Miller was still plenty worried about the near future, which includes three home games against respectable mid-major teams before traveling to New York for a pair of 2K Sports Classic games at Madison Square Garden.
"There's nothing funny about our team," Miller said. "It's about we better get a lot better or Valparaiso's going to come in here and beat us, which certainly can happen."
The Wildcats, clearly, are still deep in transition with the loss of star forward Derrick Williams and the incorporation of their talented four freshmen, and there's no telling yet how long the process will take.
Or if it will ever end.
"It's way different," Perry said. "You had a guy out there you could just throw the ball to and he could easily get 30 points. You had three players defending him, which gives you open shots. And this year it's more you create for yourself. You've got a bigger role, and you've got to be ready to play."
Although he had trouble hanging on to the ball, Perry was otherwise a contributor for the entire game. He had eight points and seven rebounds in the first half, then four points and seven more rebounds in the second.
More strikingly, the Wildcats also had 12 rebounds from Natyazhko, who had all of one against Seattle Pacific.
Hill, meanwhile, had eight points and seven rebounds total but clearly landed below Miller's expectations for a guy who is Arizona's leading returning rebounder and its second-highest returning scorer.
The Wildcats trailed the Lumberjacks for all but the final three seconds of the first half and never really pulled away Tuesday, but Hill spoke of how UA did well down the stretch.
Hill also said Arizona played better because it scouted and prepared more for Humboldt than Seattle Pacific, but Miller wasn't about to go there.
"Solomon's wrong," Miller said. "Solomon has to do a lot better job of playing. There's a lot of different players who have different roles on this year's team and he's one of them. And nobody believes in him more than me, but when you want a bigger role and you don't play it…"
If his veterans disappointed a bit, though, Miller received some help inside from freshman Angelo Chol, whom Miller inserted at center with good results late in the game.
Chol had five points and three rebounds, giving Arizona some much-needed momentum late in the game when he subbed for freshman center Sidiki Johnson.
Arizona had gone on a 7-0 run midway through the second half to make it 44-37 but didn't begin to pull away until the final four minutes, when Chol made a layup and dunk to make it 56-47 with 3:54 left.
In the first half, the Wildcats didn't lead until Kyle Fogg hit a three-pointer with three seconds left in the first half, giving UA a 34-31 halftime lead.
Humboldt was ahead 25-15 before UA finished the half on a 19-6 run, the Lumberjacks' only scores during that time a pair of three-pointers from Humboldt big man Greg Leslie.
It was the kind of moment that Miller can only hope Arizona can look back on someday, at some point, with pride in the progress since Nov. 1.
"Maybe down the line when it all comes together, we'll look back at our starting point and say, 'Boy, we've really come a long way,'" Miller said. "That's our goal right now."
On StarNet: Follow the Cats into the season with Bruce Pascoe at azstarnet.com/pascoe
Preview the Arizona Wildcats' 2011-2012 season in the Star's annual special section.
• What: Valparaiso at Arizona
• When: 7 p.m. Monday
• TV: ESPNU, 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)