Arizona Athletics

What to think of Arizona right now? It’s baffling and the defense is horrible

This evaluation isn’t going to shock anyone given what they’ve seen from Arizona teams the last 30 years or more: this team isn’t very good.

And just a few months ago, it was thought to be one of the best ever … then the games came.

Oh, how times and perceptions change.

Arizona’s Allonzo Trier drives to the basket for two of his 17 points.

But, you saw it Thursday night – as well as the college basketball world given it was a nationally televised game – that Arizona needs help on so many levels, losing 82-74 to visiting UCLA in McKale.

It was Arizona’s third loss at McKale Center in three years, having gone 79-3 since 2014.

“That was probably the easiest victory in McKale, going back seven or eight years,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said matter of factly.

The cold, hard facts, however, are UA can’t play defense nor does it appear it wants to; it’s missing easy shots; and it’s playing inconsistent and uninspired basketball.

And, whatever buttons Miller is trying to push surely aren’t working.

It’s all just weird, given the history of the program under Lute Olson and the last few years under Miller.

Even Miller’s post-game, post-mortem was different. He was the first to speak – players usually do – and he was shorter than usual perhaps because no one knew what to ask given the circumstances?

What was Miller’s demeanor after the game?

“We met briefly (after the game) but obviously he’s not happy,” Arizona senior Dusan Ristic said. “Obviously nobody is happy on the team right now. We don’t lose games at home like this. This is Parker (Jackson-Cartwright’s) and my third time losing at home. It’s one of the worst feelings. Nobody is happy. We have to bounce back.”

That will be easier said than done with USC coming into town on Saturday night. And given what everyone witnessed from the Wildcats on Thursday.

Could Arizona have been any worse? It obvious that if Arizona is to be successful the rest of the way – it’s gotten to this point this way – is it’ll have to outscore opponents. And that’s a scary proposition.

“They took it to us,” Miller said of UCLA. “They did a great job. They were very confident and we were very aware that they are a very hard team to defend. They’re offense is continuing to grow.”

And Arizona’s effort on the defensive end continues to shrink. All that after Miller has continued to seemingly harp on it each and every week. Arizona seems to play like it just doesn’t care.

Heck, midway through the game a friend asked – after saying this team was hard to watch – who has Arizona beaten this season, all the while knowing the answer. Nobody is the right answer.

And in the process Arizona’s NCAA seeding for next month’s tournament continues to tumble. There had been hope for a two (stretching it) and now it could go to a four or five with lots of games left.

Again, it’s all foreign to McKale and to those who have watched through the years.

Thursday night’s disaster was a microcosm of Arizona’s season on the defensive end – it can’t defend on the perimeter and it can’t stop ball penetration.

UCLA scored 32 points in the paint (UA couldn’t stop Aaron Holiday) and the Bruins scored 33 points from beyond the 3-point line.

“(Holiday) pretty much had his way. He took what he wanted,” Miller said. “Anything our defense did he made the right/correct decisions. He spearheaded their effort.”

Then Jaylen Hands went to work on the 3-pointers, hitting three straight to give UCLA the boost and confidence to stay ahead for the rest of the night.

“That cushion at the break of 44-34 … we struggle and we didn’t have our confidence from that point on,” Miller said. “We were playing catch up. UCLA’s offense was too good for our defense.”

At some point, you’d think Arizona would have gotten the message about the defense. But in the world of “you are what you are” then Arizona just can’t play good enough defense to win a big game.

“Sometimes when I’m the coach and I give an honest answer it seems like I’m blaming the players (but) I’m not blaming the players,” Miller said. “Unless you want me to lie I’m giving the truth. We’re a much better offensive team than defense and that’s the truth. The gap has never been bigger. It’s up to us to continue to work and address it. But some of it is personnel.”

As he put it, you have to be able to move and think “and play together” and that’s obviously not happening.

It doesn’t help that one of your best players – Rawle Alkins – hasn’t played like he did last season. Of course, he sat out the first two months of the season with a foot injury and has had continuing problems On Thursday he played 29 minutes and went 2 for 9 from the floor. He had little to no impact and if Arizona is to make any type of impression in the future, he’ll have to come to play. UA can’t rely on Allonzo Trier or Deandre Ayton every game.

“It’s just very hard to be successful,” Miller said in discussing Alkins’ situation of playing time and inconsistency with it. “I’m sure that’s a big part of the struggles. But I believe in Rawle. Rawle will snap out of it … that has nothing to do with defense. And that’s really a thing that concerns me the most.”

As it should because it has Arizona in a baffling situation.

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