Arizona Basketball

Arizona Wildcats rally back but defense not enough in loss to UCLA


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Sean Miller talks to reporters after Arizona's 87-84 loss against UCLA at Pauley Pavilion (YouTube video capture)

Sean Miller talks to reporters after Arizona’s 87-84 loss against UCLA at Pauley Pavilion (YouTube video capture)

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Sean Miller mentioned after tonight’s 87-84 loss to UCLA more than once that this is his worst defensive team at Arizona since his first season in Tucson in 2009-10.

Jimmer Fredette must be saying, “You got that right”, somewhere. You remember the former BYU guard scored a school-record 49 points in a 99-69 win at McKale Center that season.

“We have too many people on our team right now who pick and choose how they’re supposed to do things,” Miller told reporters after the 87-84 loss at UCLA tonight. “You have one way of doing things on defense. It’s not like a kind of one way or two ways. The last shot of the game is a reflection of that.”

Bryce Alford, with his game-high 25 points, was Fredette revisited for Miller, drilling a game-winning three-pointer with too much space after Arizona lost track of its defensive assignments.

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Kaleb Tarczewski, not a misprint, wound up guarding Alford at the end because of a lack of communication warning Kadeem Allen of a high screen by Tony Parker that freed Alford and isolated him against Tarczewski.

Alford took a step in and Tarczewski stumbled back a step, freeing Alford for the game-winning jumper with 1.8 seconds left.

“We didn’t switch Kaleb Tarczewski on Bryce Alford,” Miller said. “You literally have to be out of your mind to do that. He shot the easiest shot he’s probably taken at Pauley Pavilion.”

Miller’s first team allowed opponents to score 80 points or more seven times, including twice over 90 points. But only once did that team of Nic Wise, Kyle Fogg, Derrick Williams, Kevin Parrom, etc., allow consecutive games of 80 points or more.

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With the way USC likes to score in transition under Andy Enfield, expect the Trojans to push 80 on Saturday for a potential third straight time Arizona will allow that many. Arizona was coming off a 94-82 win over ASU heading into tonight’s game.

Boise State’s 76 points on Nov. 19 were the most allowed by the Wildcats before the last couple of games.

Over the last two seasons (2013-14 and 2014-15), the Wildcats allowed opponents to score at least 80 points only three times.

“Unless our defense improves, we’re going to win a few and then lose a few,” said Miller, who added that will not allow for an outstanding season.

“We lost today and we scored 84 points. I mean, if you’re at UCLA and you score 84 points and you lose I think you have to take a hard look and say ‘How good is your defense?’ I think right now it is a bad defense.”

Miller mentioned to Brian Jeffries in the Arizona IMG Network postgame show that personnel changes will be made to improve Arizona’s defense against the Trojans. That may include more minutes for freshman guard Justin Simon, who has the athleticism and long arms to help Arizona’s on-the-ball pressure on the perimeter.

Simon played nine quality minutes against the Bruins. He played more minutes in blowout wins over Missouri (16 minutes) and NAU (20) but to play that many minutes on the road against UCLA shows Miller and his staff have growing confidence in him.

Pac-12 Networks analyst Steve Lavin, the former UCLA and St. John’s coach, has mentioned that Simon reminds him of Reggie Geary — one of Arizona’s best defensive players in history — because of his motor and relentless style.

Arizona needs to start showing the ferocity of Geary on the defensive end while continuing its impressive showing on the offensive end. The Wildcats managed to furiously rally back with a 15-2 run against UCLA thanks to their instant scoring potential. They reached 80 points or more for the seventh consecutive game.

Miller must find that happy medium between an effective offense and capable defense for the Wildcats to make another deep run in March.

Staying up late and writing this blog, I caught Tedy Bruschi’s “One-on-One” interview with Yogi Roth of Pac-12 Networks. Bruschi mentioned that what set the Desert Swarm defense apart was “we had guys who were mad, mad at everything.”

Miller needs guys who are mad, mad at everything on defense, communicating and fighting through screens. If not, they will face a mad coach and fewer minutes.

ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com 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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