Column: Arizona's bad omen
TEMPE, Ariz. — The old saying goes, “Defense wins championships,” but in most sports, including basketball, the team that scores the most points wins.
If No. 2 Arizona men’s basketball doesn’t fix its offensive woes, it’ll be in for a short NCAA tournament run. The Wildcats have had problems making free throws all year, and now they have to worry about scoring in the run of play.
“Our offense is continuing to put more and more pressure on our defense,” head coach Sean Miller said. “You can only guard so well. We missed a ton of free throws, and, heck, we missed a ton of free throws all year. Eventually, it’s going to run its course, and you’re going to lose because we’re leaving too many points on the table.”
The Wildcats only managed 66 points despite playing 10 extra minutes in their loss at ASU.
Junior guard T.J. McConnell drives past sophomore guard Jahii Carson during the first half of Arizona's 69-66 loss against ASU at Wells Fargo Arena on Friday.
Yes, the referees did not call technical fouls on ASU for throwing objects on the court, storming the court early, allowing their bench to run into the court early or hanging on the rim on the last score, but officiating has never been the Pac-12’s strong suit.
It’s also been established that rushing the court early is perfectly acceptable in the Conference of Champions.
The reason Arizona lost is because it couldn’t score enough and is a much different team since it beat 91-68 ASU last month.
Arizona is 2-2 since sophomore Brandon Ashley suffered a season-ending injury at California.
ASU fans chanted “Brandon Ashley,” surely to taunt Arizona, but they had a point. The Wildcats are not the same without Ashley.
His stats, 11.5 points per game and 5.8 rebounds a game, weren’t overly spectacular, but the UA lost one of its greatest strengths. With Ashley in the frontcourt and sophomore center Kaleb Tarczewski, the Wildcats could switch from a big team to a small one on the fly.
Without Ashley, Arizona is struggling to find itself.
Does it want to go big with another forward like junior forward Matt Korcheck taking Ashley’s minutes, or small with freshman guard Elliott Pitts playing in his stead?
Even with its highly touted recruiting classes each year, the bench scored no points at ASU. The Wildcats are not filling the void.
In Ashley’s absence, the offense has struggled mightily. Arizona’s first true pass-first point guard in years, junior T.J. McConnell, is shooting way more than he did when they were winning 20-something games in a row. As a result, the UA’s half-court offense has suffered.
Against Cal, Oregon, Oregon State and ASU, the Wildcats shot 32.3, 40, 50 and 35.9 percent, respectively.
Arizona’s other starter at guard, junior Nick Johnson, has also struggled in the post-Ashley era.
Johnson has shot 1-for-14, 5-for-16, 4-for-10 and 5-for-20 from the field in the last four games.
The once-mighty Wildcats now go minutes without scoring field goals. The Wildcats can probably limp through the rest of Pac-12 season, but not being able to score will become a huge problem in about a month.
Arizona lost on the road, barely, to a couple average teams that are so unaccustomed to success, their fans don’t know when to rush the court.
However, probably by its second game of the NCAA tournament (assuming the Wildcats can hold onto a No. 1 or No. 2 seed), the UA will face a team that can exploit its offensive offense.
—Follow James Kelley @jameskelley520