The Pac-12 Conference will undoubtedly be much different than the non-conference schedule. Arizona found that out Saturday night in a 78-75 loss to Stanford in Santa Cruz, Calif.
As Jemarl Baker said the team will have to “get back to work” in fixing what created Arizona’s first loss in six games.
“We have to develop as a unit,” said Baker, the key player in helping UA stay close by hitting 3s and finishing with 29 points. “We have to learn from out mistakes and move on, really. Losses happen. There are very few undefeated teams in the course of a season so we just have to be better next game.”
Better in so many ways.
Arizona coach Sean Miller listed the deficiencies aplenty in his postgame Zoom interview.
Stanford’s energy was much better than UA’s in the first few minutes of the opening half, creating a by as many as 10 points.
“They had more fight and were more physical,” Baker said. “We weren’t ready for that early on. We need to build on that. This won’t happen again. We can’t let it happen again.”
Arizona shot 12 for 23 from the free throw line, with James Akinjo missing an uncharacteristic seven from the line. He was 2 for 9.
Maybe Akinjo was overthinking the free throws? Miller said that may have been the case.
“It’s ironic because he just broke the school record – 14 for 14 (earlier this month),” Miller said. “He didn’t have his night. In no way am I blaming tonight’s game on James. He’s is our heart and soul. He makes us go.”
And, Miller said often that “our defense wasn’t good enough to win. There were a number of breakdowns we had.”
He later added: “Their offense was outstanding; we could not guard them.”
The matchups Stanford used had UA and Miller witnessed he did something he rarely does: use a zone.
“I’m glad we went zone, I thought it gave us energy,” Miller said. “It changed the complexion of the game when we had a hard time defending them.”
It worked for a number of possessions but then killed them when Stanford hit a couple of 3s late in the second half.
Arizona had a number of offensive fouls called on it – again – and it created problems.
“I promise you this you’ll never see an Arizona team draw more charges moving forward, I promise you that,” Miller said. “We have to adjust. I have to adjust (to the call).”
And then there were 17 turnovers that hurt Arizona.
And every time Arizona looked to take charge of the game, Stanford found a way to keep or take back the lead.
In the end, it resulted in a Stanford win, one that came after 20 consecutive losses to the Wildcats. In fact, Miller had never lost to the Cardinal as Arizona’s head coach.
“We’ve been in so many games like this (that) things just bounced our way,” Miller said in UA’s 20 wins. “We lost; they beat us. They did a great job. I thought their energy at the beginning or the game they were hungry.”
Miller pointed out that his team was close to scoring 80 points – the water mark for most of Miller’s teams that come away with a win – but “we had no answer (defensively).”
“We played well enough offensively to win but defensively, I can’t make the mistakes I made,” Baker said. “We can’t make the mistakes we made as a team. We have to build from this.”
He did admit that he never would have predicted Arizona would outscore Stanford in a shootout. And, well, it didn’t.
Baker tried to make it happen, given he hit seven 3-pointers to finish with 29 points. He finished with eight 3s in 13 attempts. As a team, UA shot 11 for 23.
Still, Arizona had a number of things go wrong and yet was one possession away from a tie and two for a win.
“I don’t leave this game rattled,” Miller said. “I knew coming here (it being) a road test, first time away from McKale … it’s the first time for everything for us. You have to get games under your belt to grow and improve.”
Arizona has one on Monday and one on Tuesday. Maybe that will help get over Saturday’s first loss.