If anybody has listened to the Arizona Wildcats official pre- and postgame show on Wildcats Radio 1290, they know I have, since the beginning of the season, referred to senior guard Dylan Smith as "my guy."
There was a reason for that.
I thought he unfairly bore the brunt of criticism as a returning player from a team that went 17-15 last season, when he was forced into role beyond his skill set because the team needed somebody to try to step up when Brandon Randolph faded and Brandon Williams was injured. Smith was asked to do too much. That's not his fault. He certainly doesn't need me to defend him, but I though I would try.
My theory: Smith in 2019-2020 would be a perfectly fine role player as a 3-and-D specialist on a more talented team. Stay in your lane, Dylan.
For him and the Wildcats, it's been a rollercoaster ride this season, and it hasn't always been easy to be in Smith's camp. He's been one streaky shooter. Maddening at times. Oh, those late missed free throws. He should, mostly, be on a one-dribble minimum.
But with seven games remaining in the regular season, I'll stand by my original thesis:
Coach Sean Miller trusts him, he's not afraid of the moment -- somebody should have passed him the ball at the end of the game at ASU -- and he's the best guy for the job at starting shooting guard.
That was in doubt earlier this week as Miller hinted at a potential change, but he stuck with Smith, who carried a cold streak of 17 consecutive 3-point misses into Thursday night's game at Cal. That skid hit 18 in the first half, but then Smith hit four in a row after the break to help carry the Cats to a 68-52 victory.
"I'd like to give Dylan Smith a lot of credit," Miller told reporters after the game.
"He's really been struggling with his shot. When you're in your last year -- you lose to team like UCLA and you're not playing well -- you can really go south and stay there. But I thought his three days of practice, he got himself ready to go, he worked extra and he played a terrific game tonight -- 4 of 5 from 3 was a big reason that we were able to win the game."
Smith hit a 3-pointer during a decisive 12-0 run in the second half, and he drained back-to-back treys just under the 5-minute mark after Cal was still within range, down by 10.
Smith also pulled down five rebounds and was part of an effort that held Cal star Matt Bradley to 7-of-18 shooting.
Miller will stand by his senior.
"I don't want Dylan Smith to be the scapegoat because we lost a home game because of his shooting," Miller said, referring to the UCLA loss, when Smith was 0 of 7 from the field.
"You don't start him tonight, and all of a sudden that's the answer. There's a reason that Dylan starts, and it's through his hard work. He's a two-way player; he gives a lot of hustle and a lot of effort on the defensive end, and he did that as well tonight. But I thought he played within himself and I thought his 3-point shooting really broke the game open in the second half."
Smith has four games this season in which he has made four 3-pointers while attempting no more than six. That's hot. He also has four 0-for-4 games. That's cold.
That's Dylan Smith.
He's not a star, nor was he ever intended to be. But on a team with three freshmen projected as first-round draft picks, he's averaging 8.2 points and shooting 37.6 percent from 3-point range -- in addition to plus-defense as a lengthy perimeter defender.
He's fine. He's the role player Arizona needs.
"I mean, whatever narrative that people want to put out there is what it is," Smith told reporters Thursday night, as quoted in the Arizona Daily Star. "I know how to play basketball. At the end of the day, it's all about winning, man, as long as we win."