Arizona Basketball

Miller offended by his team’s defense as Arizona falls short this time


Sean Miller used the words “very mediocre defense” to describe Arizona’s execution against Washington, but it was a strong defensive play by Deandre Ayton that resulted in the Wildcats’ ultimate downfall Saturday night.

March is not here yet but this is still maddening.

Ayton’s blocked shot on a driving attempt by Jaylen Nowell landed in the lucky hands of Dominic Green, who benefited from Arizona’s defense sagging on Nowell, leaving him open for a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give Washington a 78-75 victory at Alaska Airlines Arena in Seattle.

The game marked the return of former Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, who is now a lead assistant for Miller. The sellout crowd gave Romar a standing ovation before the game started.

Green’s shot was one of eight 3-pointers made by Washington in 14 attempts. Two of them hit the glass first before falling in. It was that kind of charmed night for the Huskies.

Green, who is shooting 18 of 31 (58.1 percent) from beyond the arc in Pac-12 games, made 4 of 5 from that distance against Arizona to finish with 14 points.

Washington’s inside-outside execution was difficult for Arizona to handle. Noah Dickerson had 25 points to lead all scorers. He held his own at the post against Ayton, making 10 of 16 shots from the field.

Arizona allowed too many Huskies to have hot hands. David Crisp made 50 percent of his shots and finished with 16 points. Nowell made 2 of 3 shots from 3-point range and had 14 points.

“Tonight is probably the last reminder for me, and I hope for our team, that unless we continue to improve defensively — and it doesn’t have to go from where we are to being the No. 1 defensive team in the world — I mean incrementally things that we can control, we’re going to continue to be in these types of games because our great offense a lot of times is negated by a very mediocre defense,” Miller told Brian Jeffries in the postgame radio show.

Arizona (19-5, 9-2 Pac-12) has danced with the devil in narrow wins over Stanford and Utah and late-game escapes against Oregon and Colorado in the seven-game winning streak that was snapped.

The Wildcats got burned this time.

Washington kept Arizona from separating itself from the other top teams in the top five of the conference. The Huskies (17-6, 7-3) are only a game back in the loss column from Arizona, as is USC, which is 8-3 in conference play.

UCLA, 7-4, visits McKale Center on Thursday in the first of two games for Arizona this week that should be very interesting.

“The thing about us is we’ve been in four or five of these types of games,” Miller told Jeffries. “The ball has bounced our way several times and we keep giving credit to our players. We finish strong. And you know what? There’s some truth to it.

“Tonight we finished strong but when you are continually in these one-possession games, every once in a while a guy is going to make a shot and we’re going to miss a shot and we’re going to go away a loser in a thrilling game instead of a winner.”

The positive to take from this loss — a setback that could unnerve most teams because of the last-second dagger — is to know Arizona can attack a decent 2-3 zone defense.

Entering the game, Washington’s opponents were shooting only 41.9 percent from the field and 27 percent from 3-point range. Arizona made only 2 of 12 from beyond the arc, but the Wildcats consistently attacked for higher percentage looks.

They made 29 of 50 shots (58 percent) from inside the arc, which means Ayton and Dusan Ristic were factors inside off the entry passes and penetration from the guards. Ayton and Ristic combined to make 18 of 29 shots from the field.

Ayton finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds, his 15th double-double of the season, while Ristic had 21 points and 10 rebounds. Allonzo Trier woke up from only three points in the first half to finish with 20 points.

“Everybody talks about their zone and their zone is tremendous,” Miller said of Washington. “We did a fine job on offense. We scored 47 points in the second half and why we didn’t leave with a victory is they scored 43.

“Our defense has just not been able to grow … Tonight, we had no answer for anything that Washington wanted to do on offense. … It’s a concern of ours that we keep waiting to take that next step.”

UCLA, which rallied to beat USC 82-79 at Pauley Pavilion earlier Saturday, is the next step on the schedule.

With only seven regular-season games left and Arizona clinging to a one-game lead in the standings, taking care of the home court against the L.A. schools becomes paramount.


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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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