You can look at this two different ways — Arizona is playing with fire and might get burned, God forbid if you are a Wildcat fan, in March when the games matter the most, or Sean Miller’s team has amazing grit to pull out wins in the most dire situations creating hope for what’s ahead.
My colleague Anthony Gimino has tracked one statistic of significance: Arizona is 12-3 now — after last night’s 77-70 win over ASU — when the Wildcats are up by one, tied, or trailing with 8 minutes or less.
This other development I have followed since the start of the Pac-12 season on Dec. 30 against ASU at McKale Center: Arizona is now an incredible 8-0 in conference games when it blows a double-digit lead and leads by only two points or worse. ASU and Utah have fallen victim twice against Arizona in this circumstance. The graphic:[table “” not found /]
Amazing that Arizona has weathered the storm of a 25-point swing like last night at ASU, a 23-point differential at Stanford (when the Cardinal went from being down 12 points to taking an 11-point lead with less than 10 minutes remaining), 14- and 15-point shifts against Utah and a 15-point swing against Oregon.
What does it mean?
— Arizona finds a way to win behind primarily the play of starters Allonzo Trier, Deandre Ayton, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Rawle Alkins and Dusan Ristic. A better starting unit in college basketball, especially with how they function inside and out, does not exist.
— The Wildcats’ starters are enough to make up for deficiencies and a lack of production from the bench. If Miller puts more than one reserve on the floor, Arizona’s overall effectiveness usually declines, especially when the primary ball-handler — Jackson-Cartwright — is out of the game. Foul trouble or fatigue generally means Arizona can not keep those double-digit leads because Miller usually can’t go seven to eight players strong.
Last night, for example, Arizona’s reserves made only one field goal and scored a combined six points against ASU. Arizona’s starters played 164 of the 200 minutes.
Jackson-Cartwright played only 24 minutes because of foul trouble. Miller did not have a backup point guard to go to with freshman Alex Barcello apparently not developing in Miller’s system as much as Arizona’s coaches hoped. Trier, who played 38 minutes, had to pick up that slack.
With only four regular-season games remaining, nothing will drastically change. Miller will roll the dice with his starters and hope Keanu Pinder, Dylan Smith, Emmanuel Akot, Brandon Randolph and Ira Lee do just enough to keep Arizona above water.
The Wildcats are certainly battled tested. Their ship has remained afloat. Very choppy water (March Madness) is ahead.
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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.