Arizona’s shooting was so cold Saturday at Baylor it made Sean Miller sweat.
The Arizona coach was drenched with sweat for most of the game while he watched his team make only 14 shots from the field while committing 16 turnovers (11 in the first half). The Wildcats shot 26.9 percent from the field, including a 2-of-18 performance from 3-point range.
Arizona’s cold shooting and Freddie Gillespie’s career-high 17 points along with 13 rebounds enabled No. 18 Baylor to defeat the 12th-ranked Wildcats 63-58 in front of a sparse crowd that had many Arizona fans at Waco, Texas. Baylor’s football team was playing in the Big 12 Championship against Oklahoma at the same time.
“We had a number of guys that didn’t necessarily play well on offense,” Miller said during the postgame radio show. “You know, sometimes you think you get good looks, and maybe you didn’t, but we clearly have to get better.
“The problem with us right now is when we’re in transition and the ball is going in, you know that’s when we’re at our best. We want to play with tempo. But no matter what anybody thinks when you play against good teams on the road, as the college basketball season grows, the early shots aren’t going to be as plentiful nor are they going to be as open too many times. When you take quick ill-advised shots, you almost put that in a category of a turnover.”
Arizona was sixth in the nation making 43 percent from 3-point range entering the game. The Wildcats (9-1) were averaging eight made 3-pointers a game. They were tied for third nationally with Illinois averaging 87.1 points a game before Saturday.
Out of all the offensive failures, Miller was most critical of the turnovers, particularly in the first half.
“The 11 turnovers really hurt us,” he said. “Whether the shots were going in or not, you can’t make a shot that you don’t take. A number of those 11 turnovers fueled an open 3 or a coast-to-coast drive in the first half (for Baylor). It was a big reason that we were down by 11 points and had only 24 points in the first half.”
Miller is not one who cares if you see him sweat. Intensity magnified. … pic.twitter.com/QW67YjN6Jy
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) December 7, 2019
Surviving on its 21 of 24 shooting from the free throw line in the second half, Arizona’s five-point possession with 1:48 left cut Baylor’s lead to 57-56.
Jemarl Baker Jr. made a 3-pointer — ending the Wildcats’ 10:21 drought without a field goal – and Zeke Nnaji was fouled away from the ball on the same play. Nnaji converted the two free throws.
Baylor (7-1) went ahead 60-56 with 37 seconds left on Jared Butler making one of two free throws.
The Wildcats had possession with 18.9 seconds left coming out of a timeout and Nico Mannion made a short jumper with 11 seconds remaining to cut the lead to 60-58.
MaCio Teague, who had 19 points and seven rebounds, was fouled and he made one of two free throws.
Arizona had a chance to tie but Josh Green’s 3-pointer banged off the rim with 5 seconds left. Butler, who had 13 points on 3-of-12 shooting, followed with two free throws with .8 seconds left to secure the win.
Green (strep throat) and Mannion (back spasms) missed most of the week’s practices. Stone Gettings (facial fracture) did not make the trip to Baylor.
“We had a number of guys not practice through the week and you never, never can ever feel good about that,” Miller said. “There’s just too many parts to our game today that reflected a choppy week of practice. when you consider who played in the game and who practiced. That’s something we also have to address.”
We stayed in the game scoring 15 straight points from the free throw line before Jemarl Baker Jr.’s 3⃣ brought us to within 3.
Our ball, down 4 with 19.2 seconds left. pic.twitter.com/m1nBP1wpme
— Arizona Basketball (@APlayersProgram) December 7, 2019
Baylor also struggled from the field, shooting 30.4 percent, and also finished with 16 turnovers.
“Under the two-minute mark, when you’re in a single-possession game, you’re going to have a chance to win. A lot of times, that’s all you can ask,” Miller said. “It didn’t feel that way because our offense and those (shooting) numbers — obviously you felt that throughout the whole game.”
Mannion led the Wildcats with 15 points with five assists but he shot 3-of-14 from the field. Nnaji had 12 points and Chase Jeter finished with 11. Nnaji and Jeter combined to make 15 of 16 free-throw shots. Arizona was 28 of 34 overall from the stripe.
A 15-0 run by Baylor in the first half proved to be the difference, putting the Bears ahead 22-8 with 9:25 remaining until halftime. The Wildcats went 5:30 without scoring missing four shots and committing five turnovers during that stretch. Gillespie had eight points in that run for the Bears.
First half 📸
— Arizona Basketball (@APlayersProgram) December 7, 2019
“It shows our guys that when your offense isn’t clicking, you can still win,” Miller said. “It’s just a matter of you got to do a great job of blocking out. You gotta get tough stops and you gotta stay with it.
“Not always through a 35-game season, you are gonna hit and be hot from the field and be a prolific offensive team. The bottom fell out on us a little bit on offense. Some of it is Baylor’s a good defensive team and some of it is, like we talked about, lessons learned and an opportunity to grow.”
Baylor started the second half missing its first five shots allowing Arizona to cut the lead to 35-28 after two baskets by Nnaji in the first two minutes of the half.
After Arizona cut the lead to 42-36 on a floater in the lane by Green with 12:09 remaining, Baylor answered in consecutive possessions with a 3-pointer by Davion Mitchell and a jumper by Gillespie to go up 47-36 with 10:32 left.
CHRISTIAN KOLOKO BEHIND THE BACK PASS pic.twitter.com/azOdmna8QC
— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) December 7, 2019
That shot by Green was Arizona’s last converted from the field until Baker’s 3-pointer with 1:48 remaining.
The Wildcats could never get over the hump against Baylor, which led since 13:54 remained in the first half. Arizona failed to avenge last year’s loss to the Bears at Tucson, snapping the Wildcats’ 52-game non-conference winning streak at McKale Center.
A positive: Freshman forward Christian Koloko had a productive 12 minutes off the bench with two blocked shots, making his only attempt from the field and producing two assists, one of which was a behind-the-back delivery to Jeter that Miller said is “one of the best passes that I’ve seen a big man have. It was a lot of poise on his end. … He came in the game and played confident and did his job.”
Arizona next hosts Nebraska-Omaha on Wednesday at 6 p.m. The Wildcats follow that game with an anticipated matchup with Gonzaga at McKale Center next Saturday.
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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.