Arizona Basketball

Arizona Wildcats making strides but need work

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Arizona senior guard Gabe York launches a three-pointer that beats the shot clock before the end of the first half (Fox Soorts 1 video capture)
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Arizona overcame a 10-point halftime deficit against UCLA on Friday to win 81-75.

Arizona almost blew a 16-point lead at halftime against USC tonight before pulling away late to an 86-78 victory at McKale Center.

“We really have a hard time playing a full 40 minutes,” Sean Miller told Brian Jeffries in the IMG Sports Network postgame show.

Arizona (21-5 overall, 9-4 in the Pac-12) is in the midst of a five-game winning streak after what could have been a demoralizing loss at home against Oregon.

The Wildcats achieved their second win against an RPI Top 50 team with the victory over No. 22 USC. The only other victory was against No. 35 Oregon State. The Beavers (14-9, 6-7) are riding the fence for the NCAA tournament.

Arizona also is tied with Oregon atop the conference standings thanks to the Ducks getting swept in the Bay area this weekend. More good news. But three weekends remain in the regular season, including a harrowing trip in two weeks to Colorado and Utah, and Miller knows anything less than the best from his team can be dangerous.

“Eventually this team’s season will end sooner than we want it to end if the details don’t improve,” Miller said in the postgame press conference.

Even Arizona’s bread-and-butter aspect to its game, its defensive rebounding, took a hit against the Trojans. The Wildcats led the nation entering the game, pulling down 78.3 percent of their defensive rebounding chances.

USC had 14 offensive rebounds off its 44 misses, which means Arizona pulled down only 68.2 percent of its defensive rebounding opportunities. The Wildcats’ defensive lapses on the perimeter occurred again in the second half with USC making 9 of its 18 attempts to allow the Trojans back in the game. Arizona’s perimeter defenders seemed a step slow getting to the shooters.

The Wildcats clamped down on defense after USC cut the lead to 70-68 with 6:45 remaining in the game. The Trojans missed eight consecutive attempts until Bennie Boatright ended the drought with a three-pointer with 36 seconds. By then Arizona was ahead 84-75 and back in command.

During that late cold spell, USC was still able to grab four offensive rebounds. The Trojans were unable to convert.

“They killed us on the offensive glass,” Miller said.

Miller also mentioned that sweeping UCLA and USC “you have to feel accomplished, and we do”.

The wins were very significant to the Pac-12 race and Arizona’s seeding in the NCAA tournament. Mark Tollefsen’s play off the bench against USC — 13 points and six rebounds — is something that can make opposing coaches cringe because he is a senior who has markedly improved since the start of the conference season.

We are about to discover with the Pac-12 race coming down the stretch if Arizona will go from feeling accomplished to actually accomplishing another Pac-12 title and going far beyond that.

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Pac-12 Standings
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THREE-POINT FIELD GOALS CAREER
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ARIZONA’S 1,000-POINT SCORERS
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Before Arizona
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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