Arizona Basketball

Rivera: Trying to find perspective in Arizona Wildcats’ blowout loss

Let’s see if we can put the Arizona debacle in perspective. Bear with me on this observation while not making an alibi for a coach who makes close to $3 million.

Stuff – or insert your own word here – happens. Luckily for Arizona fans, it’s not too often that it does. Twenty-plus-point blowouts rarely happen in Sean Miller is on the sidelines. In fact, Saturday’s 85-58 loss was UA’s fifth in eight seasons.

Saturday afternoon was expected to be the game of the year in what could have been a party to showcase the Pac-12’s two best teams. Instead, only one showed up and, well, it wasn’t Arizona.

Can everyone just keep the Final Four talk to a hush or a minimum, now? Win one game and move on. Lose a game and you regroup. Every team with a chance at a deep run needs to understand that. It’s never as bad as it looks and clearly never as good.

And here’s something novel: Pay attention to the so-called experts at your own risk. Just when the national media continued to trumpet Arizona as a possible Final Four participant and a possible national titlist along came Saturday. Whoa! It’s only early February and nothing – NOTHING – is won in February … just as nothing is won in November, December or January.

My point is: don’t read too much into Arizona’s big win over UCLA and don’t read anything into Oregon’s stunning win over the Wildcats. Except maybe there’s still a lot to work on.

What if Arizona would have won by the same margin on Saturday? The only thing it would have raised was unrealistic expectations from all involved – especially the fans who have listened to those who have seen Arizona play once and have anointed the Cats contenders.

As I’ve said numerous times: Enjoy the moments because it’s how you play that day. And on Feb. 4, 2017 it was a day to forget inasmuch as it was the second worst in the Miller era (99-69 to BYU on Dec. 28, 2009). And the school’s worst loss while ranked in the top 5.

As Miller told reporters in Eugene, “it’s not spring.”

No, but that’s just around the corner.

By the Numbers

The one thing you could always rely on from Arizona this year – or so you thought – was the outside shooting, given Lauri Markkanen, Kobi Simmons and the addition of Allonzo Trier. Well, not on Saturday. Arizona’s three best shooters combined for 6 for 23 from the floor and combined to go 3 for 11 from beyond the 3-point line. You know things are bad when Markkanen misses.

Could that happen again? Of course it can.

A bad night – or day – in the NCAA tournament has long doomed the Cats when Arizona had a team capable of getting to the Final Four or was in it. Steve Kerr went 2 for 13 in 1988 and Salim Stoudamire had the same numbers in 2005 in the Elite Eight. There were other crazy games, but you get the point. Damon Stoudamire and Khalid Reeves combined for 4 for 24 against Arkansas in 1994.

Sorry for the reminders.

This year anyone can win it

This season, like many in the recent past, it seems as many as 10 teams could possibly win the title. Heck, who thought Villanova would win last year? How about Duke the year before and Connecticut the year before that? It’s what makes college basketball so fun to watch. It’s hard to predict what will happen in March.

Can Arizona be good enough to reel off six consecutive wins when the Tournament starts in six weeks? Yes, but it could also implode in the Sweet 16, too. All it takes is a bad game and/or a bad matchup. (How’s that for some insight?) It happens all the time. Arizona still has problems with a zone and teams more athletic than it is. Oregon is one of those teams. Other teams could be: Kansas, Virginia, Baylor … and oh, by the way, all three lost on Saturday afternoon, too. My guess there is panic in the streets of those schools too.

Defending the Defense

Most of the year, Arizona’s defense was praised because it was able to control teams and extend on the perimeter. It did a solid job of that most of the season, especially against a team like UCLA where points came easy to it. The question on that game was: was it Arizona’s defense or did UCLA just miss? It was probably a combination of each. Arizona is a good defensive team using its athletic ability to get out and pressure. Saturday wasn’t a good example of it in as much as Oregon didn’t miss.

“This happens in a course of a long season,” Miller said on his postgame radio show. “Once in a while you catch a team playing their best, coupled with us not being at our best.”

Miller said his team’s defense was “really organized” in the first half but then his team “broke down.”

Actually, everything broke down.

Good thing is it has time to be put back together.

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