Sloppy Wildcats must make amends before caliber of opponents picks up
No. 8 Arizona has been swatting opponents like flies on a hot summer day, racing out to a 6–0 start, its best since 1999.
While Wildcats head coach Sean Miller will continue to sing the praises of every opponent Arizona faces, the simple fact is that most of them are not anywhere near as close to as skilled as the Wildcats.
The cupcake portion of the schedule is over, as the Wildcats defeated Southern Miss 63-55 last night. Arizona’s next two games will be undoubtedly be tougher, as it travels to Clemson on Dec. 8 before taking on Florida in McKale Center on Dec. 15.
After that, the Wildcats say good-bye to non-conference opponents and focuses on a mediocre, but familiar slate of Pac-12 opponents.
UCLA was thought to be a serious contender for the conference crown, and it still could be, but the Bruins have already dropped from the polls and have had two of their best players, center Josh Smith and guard Tyler Lamb, leave the program.
The road is easier for Arizona than it was when the season started, but the next two matchups will be key.
“I think we’ll learn a lot about our team in the next two games,” Miller said, but added, “I don’t think it’s the defining moment of our season.”
Last season, an overhyped Wildcat squad traveled to Florida and lost in overtime. Arizona has a bevy of size and depth that should help it, but the Wildcats are still a 3-point shooting, finesse team. The Golden Eagles only had one player taller than 6-foot-7 — and he recorded exactly zero minutes.
Still, the Wildcats had only made three field goals inside the 3-point line at the half.
Relying on 3-point shooting and the team’s ability to out-rebound opponents will not work against No. 5 Florida or on the road against Clemson.
Against Southern Miss, whose best win was against Georgia, the Wildcats looked like a team that thought they could show up and impose their will.
Not the case. The Golden Eagles out-scrapped Arizona for a good 25 minutes of Tuesday night’s game, while the Wildcats pouted as they struggled to find their stroke. The only player who came prepared to play a 6-1 team was sophomore guard Nick Johnson, who had a game-high 23 points, but struggled handling the ball, coughing up a season-high six turnovers.
Sure, the Wildcats won, but they weren’t focused.
“Twenty-seven turnovers,” Miller said. “The chances of winning the game, they’re not very good.”
Entering the game, Miller stressed the importance of limiting turnovers. Arizona averaged 13.4 per game in four games to start the season. Against the Golden Eagles, the Wildcats had no answer for the 1-3-1 match up zone defense Southern Miss deployed in the first half, and committed 27 turnovers, including nine from guards Mark Lyons and Johnson.
Arizona should not have won the game on Tuesday night, and won’t win against Clemson and Florida committing that many turnovers and shooting only 35 percent in the first half.
The talent is certainly there. The coaching is top of the line.
It’s on the Wildcats whether they want to play to the level they’re capable of.
“It’s kind of weird to say, but I’m happy we have a close game,” Johnson said. “Our freshmen really haven’t been though a close game. We got the experience factor in this.”