Arizona Basketball

No defending Arizona’s defense, it’s just ‘horrible’ right now

It’s very apparent Arizona has a long way to go to be a good team. The last two games – two loses, of course – have proven that.

But what has Arizona coach Sean Miller learned after a weekend of defeat?

“We can’t defend,” he said. “We really struggle.”

It’s such a big problem he probably spent 80-90 percent of press conference talking about his defense’s demise.

And, well, there’s no defending it. Arizona can’t stop opponents – or at least the good ones.

UA’s James Akinjo goes for two of his game-high 25 points. (Photo courtesy UA Athletics)

Saturday night, in Arizona’s 81-75 loss to UCLA in McKale Center, Arizona almost had a social-distancing defense as UCLA hit shots via drives and long distance. Arizona has now lost four straight games to the Bruins in McKale.

The frustration has yet to hit Miller (as much as he’s shown in the past, at least), but then again, it’s still early given Arizona is now 9-3 overall and 2-3 in the Pac-12.

“I wouldn’t use the word frustrated (because) every team presents some set of problems,” Miller said, comparing defense’s to previous teams.

Miller said his team “willed out” a victory against Washington State last week and almost did on Saturday night but “we couldn’t make the plays” to get it done.

“If you get a couple of stops down the homestretch you’re playing to win,” he said. “… But we could never put ourselves in that position. When we needed the stop the possession usually ended in a foul.”

And, those fouls have been as pesky and perplexing as his team’s defense. He’s team is doing it too much.

UA;s Azuolas Tubelis had 15 points and eight rebounds. (Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics)

Saying he’s been confused by the officiating: “It all depends on what night we’re playing what’s an offensive rebound foul and what isn’t.”

Time is of the essence given Arizona must now prepare for the trip to Oregon, where UA was swept last season.

‘If we can be a better defensive team, and foul less, I think we can go a long way toward winning,” Miller said.

Until then, the reviews from the weekend of play – particularly UCLA – defense was “horrible,” he said. He said even going to a zone created problems because the team couldn’t pick up rebounds.

“We are a horrible defensive team,” he said. “We played against two very good teams, but that’s how you judge yourself, right?”

Indeed. UCLA and USC aren’t the previous teams UA faced in getting to a 9-1 record. Opponents matter. And Arizona’s defense hasn’t mattered to them.

Both USC and UCLA have gotten to the basket with ease.

“We just have no answer on defense — straight line drives, in and around the basket — and the fouling is just off the charts, right now,” Miller said going as far as saying his team might be undisciplined when it comes to defense. “Sometimes it might be you’re outmatched. But for the most part if you have a problem as a team fouling, that’s something that we, or I, have to correct.”

It also hurt Arizona that junior guard Jemarl Baker, missed most of the second half with an injured hand.

“I don’t know if it’s broken (or) if it’s sprained,” Miller said of Baker. “We’re going to find out more over the next couple of days on his situation.”

Baker suffered the injury in the first half. He played 23 minutes, but only seven in the second half. He went 2 for 7 from the floor and was 0 for 4 from beyond the 3-point line. He’s O for 15 in his last three games.

All was not lost – if you’re looking for positives given that James Akinjo returned to form, scoring a game-high 25 points in attempting to keep UA in the game. And again, Azuolas Tubelis had another good game, finishing with 15 points and eight rebounds.  

Miller said he and Akinjo met on Friday.

“If you’re the engine that makes the team go you can be a really good engine or a broken-down engine,” Miller said. “You’re still the engine. We’re not nearly as good when he’s not that type of player for us. Tonight, he was great.”

When asked about his performance, Akinjo said: “We lost, so it was hard to judge my personal performance,” Akinjo said. “Overall, I think my energy was better and my activity was better. I think I was just more engaged.”

Now, if Arizona could do that on the defensive end. It could find a way to win sometime soon.

Be sure to catch Steve and Jay Gonzales on Eye on the Ball weekdays from 3-4 pm on FoxSports 1450.

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