Now you see them, now you don’t.
In the mysterious case of the University of Arizona men’s basketball team now you see them … again.
For how long is anyone’s guess, but if you’re backing the Cats seeing them play well enough to get a victory – any sort of a victory – is a good thing.
Deep into Thursday night, Arizona was good enough to pull away from host California, 68-52, to rebound from Saturday’s unsightly loss to UCLA.
Now you see them?
Arizona saw the rim better than it did last week, particularly in the second half as it went on a 12-0 run to gain some distance from the Bears after it was 33-32 early in the second half. It helped that every possession mattered given California plays a milk-the-clock offense.
Arizona can thank the cold Dylan Smith, who after missing a 3-pointer, hit four consecutive 3-pointers to end his slump of missing 18 consecutive treys over the last few games.
“We’re really proud of him and glad he was able to deliver when we needed it most,” UA associate head coach Sean Miller said in the team’s post game radio show.
Arizona went 6 for 16 from beyond the 3-point line and finished hitting 54.2 percent of its shots. Arizona coach Sean Miller hinted this week he was thinking of making a starting lineup change that may have included Smith, but Miller opted against.
“Coach (Sean Miller) put in a couple shooting workouts this week, a little extra stuff for the perimeter guys including Stone Gettings and Dylan,” Murphy said. “Dylan went both days and obviously it paid off in dividends. You’re so happy to see the guys put in the hard work and see it pay off.”
What it all means is Arizona is able to stay with the leaders of the Pac-12 with just a few games left. UA is now 17-7 overall and 7-4 in the conference. Arizona is ½ game behind league leaders Oregon and Colorado, both at 8-4.
Arizona’s Miller knew it would be a drag-it-out-game, given he talked about pace at the team’s recent press conference. He was right as Arizona scored 27 points in the first half, but still led 27-20 at the break. The 27 points were the third lowest by UA this season.
Still, it was a marked improvement from last week’s lethargic game vs. UCLA. Arizona looked like it was in trouble early in the second half when Cal closed it to 33-32, but then UA went on that 12-0 run behind the play of Zeke Nnaji who had 21 points.
Arizona made an effort to get the ball near the basket for scores. Ira Lee had four points and Chase Jeter, back in the lineup after missing the last seven games, had two points.
“We got good stops on defense and we wee able to get out on transition and were able to take good shots during that time,” Murphy said. “Zeke Nnaji down low was a load. He had just gone 2 for 7 after a missed reverse (layup) and then he ends 8 of 13 from the field. It shows from that point forward it was not just Dylan’s perimeter shooting but it was Zeke down low.”
Arizona was outrebounded 37-32 but won the turnover battle 15-10 which proved to be a huge number.
“We’re top 20 in turnover percentage,” Murphy said. “We have not this season turned the ball over at a high rate. That keeps us in games when we haven’t been shooting well. And it’s kept us in games when we haven’t rebounded well.
“It helps with the rhythm of your team.”
And right now, on a Thursday night in the Bay area, Arizona has it again.