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February 20, 2013
Angelo Chol came off the bench in Arizona's Feb. 6 defeat of Stanford to score six points and grab eight rebounds - a solid, if not modest stat line. But the sophomore forward's contribution that night transcended the box score.
Chol brought a palpable energy lacking from the Wildcats' initial play. His attack of the glass on missed shots, defense against the Cardinal post players and hustle were key in shifting momentum. The McKale Center crowd recognized it with a standing ovation; head coach Sean Miller recognized Chol's contribution with significantly more playing time.
"Angelo deserves a lot of credit, he really stayed with it," Miller said.
Chol showed glimpses of emergence late in his first season out of San Diego (Calif.) Hoover, but struggled to find a place in a 2012-13 roster that included highly touted newcomers Grant Jerrett, Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley. Three times this season, Chol's only mark in the scorebook has read "DNP."
But starting with the win over Stanford, he's played into his niche.
"I said throughout the months of December and January that he's practicing hard," Miller said. "A lot of times when you do that, it's just a matter of time before you break through."
His numbers are down from the 2011-12 campaign - 12 minutes, 2.8 points and 2.3 rebounds per game compared to 9, 2.2 and 2.1 - but as was evident against the Cardinal, not everything can be measured so succinctly.
"If you watch him run and move, you know he's a terrific defender and very good on the offensive and defensive glass," the coach continued. "That's a constant with him. But one of the things we were waiting for him to do was be able to catch that thing, put it in and score when it arrives and he's doing that."
Miller attributed his lack of playing time earlier in the season to shaky hands when receiving entry passes into the post. Whether a coordination or confidence issue, it's a matter Chol has been shoring up.
"[Chol has] done a great job of doing the things he's always done well, but [now] he's finishing and making point-blank shots," Miller said. "He's gaining confidence."
Confidence in his play translates to confidence from the coaching staff, as Chol plays his own into regular rotation again. Sixty of the 200 minutes Chol has played on the season have come in UA's last four contests.
His improved play gives the Wildcat coaching staff sorely needed options down low. Miller has lamented the team's rebounding when senior Solomon Hill is forced to play power forward. Combined with the freshmen trio, Chol keeps Hill at his natural position, where he is most valuable.
"What Angelo's done is give us great depth inside," Miller said. "A big reason we won [at Utah] is the depth there. [Chol, Jerrett, Ashley and Tarczewski] all made played and helped us."
As the Wildcats face many unknowns about their NCAA tournament in a final stretch that begins tonight against Washington, a certainty is how valuable Chol stepping into a contributing role can be for the March push.
"We're counting on [the post players] down the stretch for sure. Angelo's continued improvement is one of the positive signs for our team moving forward," Miller said.