Arizona Basketball

Three top observations of Arizona Wildcats vs. ASU Sun Devils



Sean Miller is restrained  by Stanley Johnson from arguing with the refs late in today's 81-78 loss at ASU (Fox Sports screen shot)

Sean Miller is restrained by Stanley Johnson from arguing with the refs late in today’s 81-78 loss at ASU (Fox Sports screen shot)

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1. Defense, or lack thereof, common theme of Arizona’s losses.

Arizona did not have an answer for ASU’s Tra Holder in the first half and Savon Goodman in the second. Holder averaged only 5.6 points entering the game but made 3-of-6 field-goal attempts for 10 points in the first half. Goodman was 4-of-6 from the field in the second half. He finished with 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting.

Arizona did not have an anwswer for UNLV’s Christian Wood and Rashad Vaughn, who combined to score 45 points on 19-of-38 shooting.

Arizona did not have an answer for Oregon State’s Langston Morris-Walker, who made 5-of-7 field goal attempts, including the game-winner.

ASU, UNLV and Oregon State combined to shoot 48 percent (72 of 150) from the field, including 41 percent (16 of 39) from three-point range. Entering today’s game, Arizona yielded only 40.2 percent from the field and 33 percent from three-point range.

ASU scored the most points against Arizona out of those three losses, prompting Sean Miller to tell Brian Jeffries in the KCUB (1290-AM) postgame show: “That was our worst defensive game of the year. It’s not even close.”


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T.J. McConnell signals a three-pointer for his shot in the first half. He made 3 of 4 from beyond the arc in Arizona's 81-78 loss (Fox Sports screen shot)

T.J. McConnell signals a three-pointer for his shot in the first half. He made 3 of 4 from beyond the arc in Arizona’s 81-78 loss (Fox Sports screen shot)

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Early foul problems on T.J. McConnell and Gabe York took a toll on the perimeter defense. Stanley Johnson fouled out for the first time this season. The fouls — four players had at least four — seemed to disrupt Arizona. Miller described most of them as “bad fouls” on the Wildcats’ part.

2. Arizona is an obvious four-man gang.

Foul trouble is another constant in each loss. The fouls affected the production of McConnell, Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Hollis-Jefferson fouled out with 7 minutes remaining at UNLV. Johnson also had four fouls at Oregon State and never got on track.

Arizona can’t afford to lose Hollis-Jefferson and/or Johnson because of fouls. They are two key parts of Arizona’s four core players, including McConnell and Brandon Ashley.

It is plain to see the Wildcats’ cogs for a successful end of the season is that foursome. That became painfully obvious for Arizona in today’s loss.

The Wildcats normally survive or thrive on the play of the those four players, but the Wildcats became too dependent on them against the Sun Devils.

They combined to take 58 of Arizona’s 71 shots. McConnell took a career-high 19 field-goal attempts. His previous record was 16 while with Duquesne against St. Joseph’s on Jan. 4, 2012. Johnson (17), Ashley (12) and Hollis-Jefferson (10) were each in double-figure attempts.

Kaleb Tarczewski and Gabe York must become the wildcards for Arizona down the stretch, giving an unexpected lift to alleviate the pressure on the Wildcats’ top core. Tarczewski was 1-of-6 against an ASU frontcourt that he should have dominated when comparing the talent levels. That leads to the next observation …

No. 3 Arizona’s bigs came up small

That is another recurring problem for Arizona in its three losses — the inability of Ashley and Tarczewski to control the paint when they should.

Ashley (6’9″) and Tarczewski (7-footer) had a respectable 15 rebounds combined, but they shot only 6 of 18 from the field against the Sun Devils. Most of those shots came in the vicinity of the basket against a smaller ASU frontcourt that included Goodman (6’6″) and Eric Jacobsen (6’10”). If Ashley and Tarczewski make 60 percent of those shots — like they should — instead of 33.3 percent, Arizona wins.

Ashley and Tarczewski were 3 of 11 from the field with only three rebounds (none by Tarczewski) in the loss at Oregon State.

Defense was their issue in the loss to UNLV as Ashley and Tarczewski could not keep step with Wood and Vaughn in their aggressive drives to the basket.

Arizona has the elements of a championship-caliber team. The Wildcats can’t afford, however, breakdowns in areas where they should dominate.


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[/ezcol_1half_end] publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He has also written articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.

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