The Brendon Lavender experiment is over, at least for now.
Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller said Tuesday he would start sophomore Kyle Fogg at shooting guard tonight against Louisiana Tech in place of Lavender, whom Miller has supported steadily since practices began in October. Lavender played only sparingly last season, but Miller has repeatedly called Lavender the team's best shooter and started him for all seven games.
Lavender is averaging 5.1 points a game and shooting 26.9 percent from three-point range. He was scoreless with two field goal attempts at Oklahoma on Sunday and was a combined 3 for 12 from the field in two prior games.
"I would love to be able to give Brendon more confidence," Miller said. "That's our job. He's a fantastic kid, and he works really hard every day. But taking that shot in a game and making it is a problem. I think he has one field goal in his last 60 minutes, and that's one of his jobs - to score, take open shots and be productive in that area.
"We want him to be aggressive, and that's something that, for whatever reason, he's had a hard time with. Hopefully he can work out of it."
Fogg started 27 of 35 games last season and is Arizona's third-most experienced player in minutes logged, behind only guard Nic Wise and forward Jamelle Horne. Fogg is averaging 5.7 points and 2.3 rebounds while averaging 21.1 minutes in seven games.
In a bluntly open news conference Monday (at which UA players did not appear), Miller explained his replacement choice:
Miller: "Kyle Fogg - it's his turn. And Kyle's done a good job of scoring when he's been in the game. … It's time to give him a chance and see (how it works) from a chemistry perspective. (We're) just opening his role up - it's not like he isn't playing - but giving him some of those minutes, giving him a starting role, giving him some confidence. I hope he can give us a surge here moving forward."
Miller said Fogg has not become the defensive stopper so far that he hoped for, but that nobody else has either.
Miller: "We don't really have that right now. We're a team that's working toward getting better. For me to say anything (positive), I would be absolutely lying to you. We have some younger players who are working hard in that area. For example, if you watched Kyryl (Natyazhko) play defense for two hours in October, you'd probably ask yourself, 'Is he going to be able to do it?' Yet here we are in early December, and he's gotten leaps and bounds better."
This is a particular concern for UA, because the Wildcats struggle with perimeter defense - and Louisiana Tech guard Kyle Gibson averages 21.0 points and 45.2percent three-point shooting.
Miller: "One of the things we've really struggled with is defending the team's best perimeter player. Kyle Gibson is as good as it gets, and they have other players who accompany him. They're very well coached and have a lot of confidence. We have to get better defensive play from our perimeter. There's some guys right now licking their chops if they're playing Arizona, and if they're a perimeter player who can score."
Among the other issues: Paying attention, in timeouts or anywhere else.
Miller: "That's a problem for us. That's one of the many problems. Before we left for Oklahoma, two of our young players didn't get taped because they thought the practice before we left was just a shootaround. For the life of me, I didn't think to bother to say, 'Hey, practice means practice.' Just in their minds, a plane flight on the day we're practicing meant, 'Oh, we must not be practicing today.'
"In hostile environments, in timeouts, the information you're trying to get out can be an adventure for our team. I'll also say we're going to be a lot better with that area with more game experience."
Not surprisingly, then, the emerging young leaders are …
Miller: "Right now, you know, none of them. I think their performance at times has been great. Derrick Williams in particular … if you would have told me this would happen in late October with certain players, Derrick would have been a guy I believed in, but his performance so far has really surpassed my expectations.
"Solomon Hill hasn't played as well lately, but he's getting better. I really think maybe of all the freshmen, in a quiet way, Kyryl is becoming more confident. He's much better on defense than he ever has been, and we've all seen those young big guys who really come on. I'm hoping we can give him a bigger window as the season moves forward, and our team can do a better job of getting him the ball where he can score."
On StarNet: See a video of Sean Miller discussing Wildcat defense and a change in lineup at go.azstarnet.com/arizonawildcats