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Men's basketball notebook: On Miller's frustration, Pac-12 parity, bench struggles, and zone defense

Lots of takeaways from Arizona's loss

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Simon Asher | The Daily Wildcat After a scuffle for the ball, Arizona's Deandre Ayton fires off a pass to an awaiting teammate.

BOULDER, CO -- It only took three games of Pac-12 play for Arizona men’s basketball to lose its first conference game of the year. The Colorado Buffaloes upset the No. 14 Arizona Wildcats 80-77 in Boulder. It was UA’s first trip back to Boulder since the 2015-16 season when the ‘Cats were ranked No. 9 in the nation and also got upset by the Buffs. 

Here’s a breakdown of different aspects of Arizona’s loss on Saturday. 

Winning streak ended:

After losing three games in a row in the Bahamas over Thanksgiving weekend, the Wildcats reeled off nine wins in a row, including two wins over top-10 teams and climbed as high as No. 14 in the AP poll. The winning streak couldn’t reach 10 games as a sluggish first half was too high of a mountain to climb in the second half. 

Arizona had its worst performance on both sides of the ball since the winning streak began and shot just 28-73 (38%) while allowing Colorado to hit 29-53 shots (55%). To add insult to injury,  was Arizona’s worst shooting performance of the season. 

Miller blames himself

When Arizona raced by Long Beach State 91-56 in Tucson back on Nov. 29, Sean Miller spent 30 minutes calling out his team’s effort in a postgame press conference. Today, although it only lasted 10 minutes this time, Miller echoed some of the same feelings but also put a lot of blame on himself. 

“Sometimes you lose and all of the sudden the coach, he starts blaming the players. That’s the furthest thing from what I’m going to do,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said. “I’m going to take all the responsibility… I did a terrible job of having our team ready.”

Pac-12 parity

Conference play is only a week old for the Pac-12, yet every team has suffered at least one conference loss. 

The Wildcats are tied with four other schools for first place in the standings with a 2-1 conference record. They will likely fall out of first place as the other schools play later this weekend. 

Colorado turned to the zone

Sean Miller teams have typically struggled against the zone and the trend resurfaced again on Saturday. To break the zone, teams usually have to be able to shoot 3’s well but Arizona did not. UA attempted 25 3-pointers but only made seven of them. The Pac-12’s best 3-point shooter, Parker Jackson-Cartwright, missed all four from deep while guards Rawle Alkins and Allonzo Trier went just 4-15 combined. 

“We want to try to keep them off balance and I thought the zone helped do that,” Colorado head coach Tad Boyle said. “They were much more effective playing against it in the second half than they were in the first half… But I thought our zone helped keep them off balance and keep them out of rhythm and they are a rhythm team.”

Bench can’t produce, again

One recurring drawback from Arizona is how little of an impact the bench provides in many games. Against Utah on Thursday, the Wildcat bench tallied just 10 points of the team’s 94. It was more of the same against the Buffaloes as six UA bench players scored a total of 12 points and grabbed only six rebounds in a combined 45 minutes of game action. 

There’s a lot to like about Arizona, but the bench production is clearly an issue. Maybe most concerning are the struggles of backup point guard Alex Barcello. The freshman hasn’t been able to stick in Sean Miller’s rotation as a viable secondary option to spell Parker Jackson-Cartwright and has led Allonzo Trier to run the offense when PJC goes to the bench. Both players often look gassed at the end of games.

Oregon schools next 

Arizona will come back to the comfortable confines of the McKale Center next week to face the Oregon schools. Oregon State ( 10-5, 2-1) will be on Thursday night and Oregon (11-5, 1-2) will be on Saturday afternoon. 


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