Arizona Basketball

The tumbling, stumbling Wildcats have a lot to work on

This is what we know about the soon-not-to-be No.2 Arizona men’s basketball team: They can beat Northern Arizona, UMBC and Cal State Bakersfield. It could not beat North Carolina State, Southern Methodist or Purdue. The Boilermakers defeated UA 89-64 on Friday night in the Bahamas.

NAU, UMBC and Bakersfield won’t be in the NCAA tournament in March.

And although Arizona didn’t look NCAA tournament worthy the last three games, it’s very likely UA will be there and still be one of the favorites to possibly get to the Final Four. I’ll go out on that slim limb and say that. But quite honestly Arizona showed very little the last three games.

Arizona’s Deandre Ayton scored 22 points and pulled down eight rebounds in UA’s loss.

It struggled to shoot well from the perimeter. The offense looked stilted. The defense looked non-existent and, well, there was so much more.

I’ve often said nothing really matters in November – just look at UA’s history with all its past success – but with what we all just witnessed you can sure lose something: hoop credibility. Arizona will have it tough this season. Who knew?

“All we gotta do is just bounce back, get back in the lab and just take care of the gaps that we were missing this week,” said UA freshman Deandre Ayton said after he scored 22 points and had eight rebounds.

If life could only be so easy. These are not the best of times for Arizona basketball – just look at the stats and the history.

This is the worst six-game start for the Wildcats under Miller since his first season at Arizona in 2009-10.

It also was the first time a team lost three straight games as the No. 2-ranked team since Louisville started the 1986-87 by losing three straight in the Great Alaska Shootout.

“Nothing is as bad as it seems, and certainly we probably weren’t nearly as good as everybody thought we were before we travelled down here, so we’ll use this as a learning lesson,” Miller said. “Clearly we’re gonna bounce back and be a much better team. There’s a few things we have to work on and fix.”

Arizona returns to action on Wednesday when it plays host to Long Beach State.

Until then, the lab will be a test case in chemistry, defense, offense and, well, everything else with basketball. You can also start with turnovers. Arizona, for the second consecutive game, couldn’t hold on to the ball. Sure it had just 12 turnovers but they came at crucial times. Arizona didn’t look like Arizona at any point on Friday night. Or for any night the last three days, save for a mini-run or two.

And the defense? Yikes, this clearly doesn’t look like a Miller-coached team on that end of it. Purdue had its way with UA, hitting 11 3-pointers, while shooting 57 percent.

“I thought NC State was a game we could have won – 75-75 – we covered that game thoroughly, but for whatever reason we didn’t have the energy and the passion defensively,” Miller explained after a question about his team’s defense. “We did against SMU and we had 20 turnovers, but either of those games could have gone our way. Tonight we were outmatched. They were the better team. It felt that way early, it felt that way throughout. They are an excellent team, well-coached and the way they move the ball when they are making shots, they can beat anybody in the country.”

Anybody was Arizona, a team that hadn’t finished last in a tournament since Ben Lindsey was the coach in 1982-83 when it finished fourth in a four-team event.

The only place Arizona can go now is up. Surely, Arizona will fall in the polls, maybe even out of the polls. CBS sports writer Gary Parrish wrote a column saying he had UA out of the top 25.

“In all the years I’ve been updating the CBS Sports Top 25 (and one) college basketball rankings on a daily basis, I’ve never had a school go from No. 2 to unranked in 48 hours,” Parrish wrote. “But, as somebody who believes the results have to matter, I can’t justify keeping Arizona ranked after consecutive losses to unranked opponents.
“So the Wildcats are out.”

Down and out? Well, only time will tell but that won’t be determined for a few more months. Stay tuned.

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