Walking into McKale Center on Thursday night, Desert Christian High coach Iram Alday paused to discuss the Arizona Wildcats’ balance.
For a high school hoops coach, the Wildcats are Exhibit A on team basketball, the perfect teaching point.
The top-ranked team in the country, after all, has one player among the Pac-12’s top 24 scorers — No. 12 Nick Johnson — and just three in the top 30. The Wildcats have had four different players lead the team in scoring in 11 games, and they’ve had four players in double-figures seven times.
Poetry in motion for Alday.
“It’s awesome to see that no one cares about personal stats, that they care more about what the team does,” Alday said. “You can see it every time these guys play. They don’t care who gets the spotlight that night. They care about winning the game, and that’s what’s fun about these guys.”
On Thursday night in a lopsided win over Southern, the Wildcats’ selflessness was on display once more. T.J. McConnell had five assists by halftime, Sean Miller lengthened his bench with nine players, four players had at least two baskets, and Arizona led by 15.
It’s sure easier to pitch team basketball to a bunch of 17-year-olds when the hometown team is thriving with it.
“It’s always more enjoyable because you know you have a team game,” Alday said. “One of the things we stress is you don’t always have a superstar, but it’s nice to see when you can rely on any guy on any night. U of A has that. Any time any guy can go off.”
Down the road from No. 1 Arizona, Alday said his players often watch the Wildcats at McKale Center, picking out things to use in their own games.
“They look up to them,” Alday said. “They know they might not be D-1 players, but they love to be a part of this. Most of them come to the games. This is a college town, and that’s the atmosphere it creates. The excitement — it’s exciting for kids to grow up when your team is No. 1 in the country.”
For the coach, too.
Alday knows a thing or two about the game — his Eagles have gone 56-12 the last two years, ranked in the top five in their division both years — and his team is off to a 6-2 start this year.
What does he see in Miller?
“Sean Miller gets the players to play every night,” he said. “He wears his emotions on his sleeves and he tells you how it is. That’s what you have to love. A guy who doesn’t sugarcoat things.”
Former UA baseball player Terry Francona, the 1980 Golden Spikes Award winner for the Wildcats, sat courtside and chatted it up with a referee before the game, even posing for a picture. Later, Francona, the Cleveland Indians manager, got a loud ovation from the McKale Center faithful.
On the defense
Arizona’s Pac-12-leading defense put the hurt on Southern early, holding the Jaguars to 29.2 percent shooting in the first half. Aside from guard Malcolm Miller, no Southern starter had more than two points, and the Jaguars’ starting lineup shot just 4 of 17 from the field.
There was just about zero chance it would factor in Thursday’s result, but Arizona’s free-throw woes continued. The Wildcats shot just 6 for 16 from the line in the first half — 37.5 percent.
Tweet of the day
“Fans cheering (and jeering) as if #arizonawildcats are behind. They’re up by 12.” — @brucepascoe