The Maui Invitational has long been a good event for Arizona through the years, save for a hiccup or two along the way.
Tuesday night – in Arizona’s 91-74 loss to No. 3 Gonzaga – it had good moments and bad moments with too many bad moments to keep the good things going. Thus, Arizona fell for the first time in five games and will now face Auburn in the third-place game of the best preseason college basketball tournament.
How it got there? Arizona was outscored 54-29 in the second half – including 39-21 in the final 12 minutes – and as Sean Miller said, “that’s all you need to know.”
Well, not exactly. There are other things.
First, the good.
Arizona played its best basketball of the season for the first 20 minutes. Its defense was stout (although the Zags did miss open shots) and it played as a team for much of the opening half. Miller said he thought his team played with “a lot of effort and played a great first half.”
“I don’t think we could play much better, even defensively,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said in his postgame press conference in Maui. “But they wore us down and their adjustments defensively switching on and off the ball took us out of what we were doing.”
Senior Justin Coleman kept Arizona rolling and looking good in the first half by scoring 17 points to give Arizona hope. He finished with 28 for the game, hitting 7 of 12 shots. He had six 3-pointers. UA held a 45-37 lead at the break and Coleman was on point with his shot, continuing his success from a day before.
“I just played my game,” Coleman said. “I just took the open shots that I had. My teammates played a big part of that.”
And, well, that was about it. As Miller said, Arizona “got overwhelmed in the second half.”
Now the bad.
Center Chase Jeter needs to have more of an impact every game. Not some games but every game given he is UA’s tallest guy and should be a force in the middle. He wasn’t that Tuesday. He had three points and was a nonfactor and was invisible in the final 12 minutes when he picked up his fourth and fifth fouls after being called for a foul and then complained about it. He received a technical because of it with UA leading 53-52.
UA needed his presence even though it was minimal to that point.
“I think the emotions got the best of Chase,” Miller said. “He has to control his emotions in that situation. We’re not a deep team as it is, especially up front. Losing him didn’t help.”
Assists? What assists?
All is good when shots are falling in a fast-paced offense, but when they are not it’s bad. Arizona had three – yes, three – assists on the night. I can’t remember the last time that has happened in an Arizona game.
That stat, Miller said, “blows my mind.”
Coleman said the team – maybe him? – tried to drive and create for their own shot. “That got us in the hole we were in,” he said.
Arizona had just one field goal from its bench, a basket from Ira Lee. The bench went 1 for 8 on the night but what that showed is it has little offensive firepower when it goes to the bench. That could be a troubling trend all season and not easily correctable.
“They are better than they played,” Miller said.
Tuesday not so much.