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New roles lead to holes, but Arizona holds off Chico State in exhibition

While Arizona’s Ray Smith seems to have accepted his premature post-playing career, his Wildcat teammates are reeling from the hangover.

The final exhibition tuneup against Chico State on Sunday was a far cry from Arizona’s 51-point blowout five days earlier.

Arizona survived, overcoming a 12-point deficit midway through the first half to beat Chico State 78-70 in McKale Center, but the reality of their roster situation showed like a throbbing sore.

Again, guard Allonzo Trier sat sidelined for undisclosed reasons.

Forward Chance Comanche’s academic suspension hasn’t been lifted either, though Miller sounded optimistic the big man should be back for Arizona’s season opener against Michigan State on Friday.

With that, freshman forward Lauri Markkanen led a seven-man rotation with 21 points and seven rebounds, including 3-of-4 shooting from deep. But after Kadeem Allen’s 15 points and four assists, there were signs that the Wildcats growing into their potential will be more difficult than expected just a week ago.

“When you play an exhibition game, you want to feel after the game that your team was able to improve from the experience. I’m so glad we played Chico State,” UA coach Sean Miller said in his postgame interview. “They play a style where they pick up full court, they play 10 players, they commit fouls, you have to be able to play through that physicality. We have a number of new guys out there and everybody on the court has a different role than a year ago. It takes some time to get better.”

The Wildcats’ defensive rotations suffered against Chico State’s ball movement that led to 48 percent shooting overall and a first half of 6-of-12 shooting from three-point range.

Arizona got up-and-down production from a thin bench unit of freshman guard Kobi Simmons and forward Keanu Pinder. Each had a negative plus-minus, though Pinder’s eight points and six rebounds were much-needed. So were Simmons’ five steals.

Freshman Rawle Alkins, who started with Markkanen, Allen, Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Dusan Ristic, struggled by going 1-for-6 from the field.

Overall, the Arizona offense clicked well enough with only six turnovers and 16 assists on 22 made field goals, but it was held to 44 percent shooting thanks to Chico State ever-changing defensive looks that packed the paint and baited the Wildcats to shoot just 3-of-12 from three-point range — Markkanen, remember, accounted for all the makes.

Meanwhile, Arizona’s lacking defense — and made Chico State shots — kept the Wildcats out of transition.

Thirty-one points scored at the foul stripe to just seven for Chico State was the only discernable advantage for Arizona on the afternoon.

What’s it all amount to?

Arizona is recalibrating roles at a point in time where other teams have it all set.

Like last season, Arizona is vulnerable with only Alkins as a true wing player and two freshmen starting at forward. The defensive-deficient Ristic still isn’t much of a presence at center when the perimeter players aren’t containing drives, though Comanche’s apparent return could certainly help in that regard.

The room for error isn’t especially wide.

Help might be coming just in time.

“With Chance, that’s a whole different ballgame,” Miller said. “It allows everybody to take a bigger break.”

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