Arizona gets chance to adjust after loss with USC game Saturday
The No. 6 Arizona men’s basketball team opened its game with UCLA Thursday night on a free throw by forward Brandon Ashley; the 1-0 lead would be the Wildcats’ last of the night.
Poor shooting and stagnant ball movement contributed to the UA’s second loss of the season, but the mourning period won’t last long, as the Wildcats take on USC Saturday at McKale Center at 5 p.m. Even though the quick turnaround should help the players move past the defeat, head coach Sean Miller also wants them to learn from the setback.
“What I hope is by the time we get to Saturday at five o’clock that this game helps us,” Miller said. “That we learn from it, and that we’re better because we went through it. That we’re not in a negative light where (we say), ‘Uh oh, what’s wrong with us?’ It’s just so hard to win every game.”
Arizona (16-2, 4-2 Pac-12) hasn’t had many lows during the first part of the season. While losses are never welcomed, Miller plans to take full advantage of the situation with an underperforming Trojans team next up.
“When you have a loss sometimes, man, you really can get the attention of your team and everybody associated with what we’re doing,” Miller said, “to really start getting better in these areas — sharing the ball, passing the ball, being more patient, taking what the defense gives and defensively understanding actually how hard we have to play.”
USC (8-12, 3-4 Pac-12) isn’t the same caliber of opponent as UCLA. The Bruins offense wasn’t the only thing troubling the Wildcats, though. The UA offense executed poorly and UCLA was able to score with ease through stretches of the game.
The Wildcats had 10 assists, compared to 14 turnovers, with the backcourt duo of Nick Johnson and Mark Lyons only setting up two baskets — and shooting guard Johnson had both of them. The giveaways were also costly, as the Bruins scored 21 points off of the turnovers.
Ball movement wasn’t the only factor in the 11-point loss. Arizona also shot the ball poorly (38.4 percent) all game and missed several easy shots around the bucket. Miller said they missed four or five really good shots, and it was a big factor during UCLA’s 19-2 run right out of the gate.
“It’s very frustrating, especially in a big game like this,” senior Kevin Parrom said. “Everyone wants to contribute and play well. Sometimes it’s like that; you don’t make the easy shots, but you got to move on to the next game.”
Scoring won’t be as imperative against the Trojans as it was against a top-25 offense in the Bruins. USC ranks 248th overall in points per game with 64.6 and only senior Eric Wise (12.5 ppg) and junior J.T. Terrell (10.1 ppg) average double figures. They can still score when they have the chance, as the Trojans put up 93 points in an overtime loss at Arizona State on Thursday night.
But as senior Solomon Hill said, making easy buckets doesn’t just help on the offense end. It helps keep a player mentally focused on the game.
“When you’re not hitting your shot, it’s kind of hard to be all in on defense at the same time,” Hill said. “When you’re missing easy chip-ins and easy shots, it kind of throws your mind and you lose that defensive focus as well and that contributes to both ends of the floor.”
The second loss of the year doesn’t eliminate Arizona from Pac-12 title contention. Yet another night of the Wildcats committing more turnovers than assists and shooting 5-for-24 from three might make the rest of the season an uphill climb, like the one they faced Thursday night.