HANSEN

Greg Hansen: It's gotta be the hair - Mayes a force again

2013-03-15T00:00:00Z 2013-03-15T09:29:33Z Greg Hansen: It's gotta be the hair - Mayes a force againGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 15, 2013 12:00 am  • 

LAS VEGAS

Bit by bit, Jordin Mayes' hair has grown so bushy that, if you apply a biblical term to basketball, it's as if Samson's hair has grown back.

Mayes' shooting powers have been restored just as his hair reached the Afro stage. Do you buy that?

"We talked to Jordin about growing an Afro again because it symbolizes the run we made to the Elite Eight two years ago," said Arizona senior Solomon Hill. "We told him he needed him to wear an Afro like he did then."

Hill looked at an inquisitor.

"I'm serious," he said. "Yup."

Whether the basketball gods are smiling upon the Arizona Wildcats at the best possible time - or if Mayes' hairdo is as meaningless as a Rogaine commercial - you don't mess with superstitions in sports. Not in college hoops and especially not in March.

You just make sure there are no scissors in Mayes' traveling bag.

After Arizona chopped up Colorado 79-69 Thursday in the Pac-12 tournament, Sean Miller didn't need to survey the box score to grasp the significance of Mayes' return to strength.

Put it this way: Mayes played only 11 minutes and scored eight points, but it seemed like 22 minutes and 18 points. March basketball amplifies the meaning of each basket.

"In tournament play, it's many times a guy who doesn't start who is the difference," said Miller.

On Thursday, Mayes was The Difference, in capital letters, the same way he was last week in a victory over Arizona State.

As recently as Feb. 23, Mayes' shooting slump was so suffocating that he was limited to two minutes in a home victory over Washington State. Over seven weeks - 35 long days and nights - Mayes had shot 2 for 17 from the field (.118 percent).

It was painful to watch as Mayes struggled to regain his shooting touch; in Arizona's rousing run to the 2011 Elite Eight, wearing an Afro, Mayes was superb. He scored 29 points in those four games, draining six three-pointers, including four straight in a classic upset over Texas.

But this year, wearing a more trendy and shorter haircut, Mayes missed every shot he took in a five-game stretch in which the Wildcats lost to Cal and Colorado.

Arizona desperately needed him to play 10 to 15 productive minutes a night and, as he did Thursday against Colorado, stick an open jumper, or three.

"It took a while to get my confidence back," he said, sitting on a stool in the winner's locker room Thursday. "I would call my dad pretty much every day. He believes in me 100 percent, and he's my best friend. I wanted him to get into my head. He knows what he's talking about, and I trust him."

Darryel Mayes indeed knows a thing or two about shooting a jumper. He was a two-year letterman at UNLV in the '90s and, before that, a star shooter at El Camino Junior College in SoCal.

Father watched son struggle and, like a golf instructor trying to figure out a pupil's swing flaws, saw that Jordin's elbow strayed a bit too far outside when he shot. He told Jordin to practice keeping his elbow closer to his body.

After some midnight sessions in the Richard Jefferson Gym, shooting hundreds of jumpers, Mayes' once-reliable jumper came back, and not too soon.

He has scored 25 points in the UA's last four games, shooting 9 for 17 (.529 percent). At a time when every shot counts, you cannot minimize his presence.

"I know I can play with anybody out there on the court," he said. "It helped that a couple of times (Miller) pulled me aside and told me not to worry about missing shots. He told me to play my game. I've always believed that the next one's going in."

As a high school player for the Westchester Comets, who went 67-5 his final two seasons and won the equivalent of two California state titles, Mayes was Mr. Reliable. He said he doesn't remember going through a slump.

"No," he said quietly. "Not really."

He was such a consistently good scorer, and all-around guard, that when Westchester played the rival Fairfax High Lions, Hill's team, that the two formed a mutual admiration group.

"When I was a sophomore on the varsity, we had to sit in the stands and watch the freshman game," Hill remembers. "One night Jordin torched us for about 30. Really took us apart. He was a big-time shooter. I've always believed in him."

Roomies for the last two years, Mayes and Hill have one another's back. This Arizona team isn't going to go far without both of them producing.

"With Jordin shooting like he is now, we're eight or nine deep, and we can keep running the way we did in the first half (Thursday) and the way we did early against ASU," said Hill. "UCLA's a team with basically seven guys, a lot like Colorado.

"When you've got a guy like Jordin coming off the bench popping open threes, it really gives us an advantage."

As Mayes completed a round of interviews in Arizona's locker room Thursday, he got to his feet, looked in a mirror and ran a hand through his hair.

It was just right.

Contact columnist Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com. On Twitter @ghansen711

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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