Arizona Basketball

Sean Miller: Another Big Loss “Takes its Toll” on Arizona Wildcats

History to Arizona basketball is not kind in the couple of years before Lute Olson’s arrival in Tucson in 1983, especially during Ben Lindsey’s forgettable disastrous four-win season of 1982-83.

What happened in this woeful Los Angeles trip, losing to USC and UCLA — a couple of NIT teams at best — by a combined 44 points brings back those bad Lindsey memories.

The 80-57 loss to USC on Thursday followed by tonight’s 90-69 drubbing by UCLA — both without injured Chase Jeter — marks the first time Arizona has lost by 20-plus points in consecutive games since late in the Lindsey season.

Ryan Luther is playing out of position in the post with Chase Jeter out (Arizona Athletics photo)

“To get blown out it’s a lot more difficult than if you lose a tough game,” Miller told reporters tonight. “If you get blown out in both games, it’s more difficult to handle that than if you got blown out in one, no doubt about it.

“It takes its toll and no one likes to lose. But losing big, by the score we lost both games, it’s more difficult to handle.”

The loss of Jeter for most of the last three games, starting when he injured his back early against Oregon State last week, apparently is taking its toll on the psyche of Arizona.

Arizona shot 28 percent against USC and 31 percent against UCLA with many of the misses coming with layups or close shots, although the Wildcats also shot a combined 13 of 53 from 3-point range in the losses.

Defensively, the Wildcats were also ineffective, allowing career-high scoring to USC’s Nick Rakocevic (27 points) and UCLA’s Kris Wilkes (34 points).

Remember, USC and UCLA entered this weekend with a combined record of 19-16.

“We’re a much better team with Chase,” Miller said. “I don’t know the outcome of either game, but he gives us the size up front. He also allows everybody to be in the role they once were in.

“Everyone right now is in a different role, and we’re obviously playing shorthanded.”

Ryan Luther is being asked to be more of an inside player with Jeter out but his explosiveness around the basket is limited. Luther finished with nine points on 2-of-9 shooting. Ira Lee, who should be a spark off the bench, started for the first time and finished with 11 points on 5-of-11 shooting from the field.

Cold-shooting Brandon Randolph had only nine points on 4-of-16 shooting.

Not only is Jeter out indefinitely, the Wildcats have played the last two weeks without former forward Emmanuel Akot, who announced he was transferring before last week’s loss at McKale Center against Oregon.

Coincidentally, in the last two weeks, Arizona’s confidence has been the lowest under Miller since his first season in 2009-10 when the Wildcats were coming off two seasons with interim staffs.

When Miller was asked by Brian Jeffries during the radio postgame show how Miller approaches his players to make them confident in what they’re doing, Miller said, “It’s very difficult. I’ve never really seen anything like it. It’s lasted now really three or four games.”

The lone bright spot against the Bruins was freshman guard Brandon Williams, a Los Angeles product who scored 19 points on 6-of-13 shooting, including 4 of 8 from 3-point range. He had three assists and three turnovers after having four assists with no turnovers at USC

“He’s playing the best basketball of his career,” Miller said. “It’s great to see him come back here to L.A. and really in my mind string two solid games together.”

Next up is playing a formidable and physical ASU team on Thursday.

No Jeter likely means another pounding. With Jeter, nothing is guaranteed. Arizona lost to Oregon with Jeter.

What is a certainty is Arizona is fighting for its NCAA tournament life, removed from on-the-bubble status after the two embarrassing losses in Los Angeles.

Perhaps fighting is the wrong word to use. Arizona is not showing much of a fight right now.

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