The good, bad, and ugly of Arizona men’s basketball over winter break

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Simon Asher | The Daily Wildcat Arizona State's Tra Holder, right, blows past Arizona's Parker Jackson-Cartwright, left, in the first half of the UA-ASU game.

The winter holidays are always the busiest time of year so if you didn’t get a chance to keep up with Arizona men’s basketball since since early December, this breakdown will get you up to speed as the new semester begins.

 

Simon Asher
Arizona's Deandre Ayton shows a barrage of emotion after picking up an and-one late in the UA-ASU game. Ayton had 23 points.


The good:

Arizona won five of its six winter break games to improve to 12-4 on the season and currently sit at No. 17 in the Associated Press poll. The biggest win of the break - and possibly the season - came against then No. 3 Arizona State in the McKale Center on Dec. 30 to open up Pacific 12 Conferenc e play. It will likely go down as one of the biggest rivalry games between the two schools, as it was the first time both teams met as ranked opponents since 1995. 

The Wildcats also won their Pac-12 road opener against Utah on Jan. 4. They will enter their upcoming home stand tied for second in Pac-12 standings. 

Freshman phenom Deandre Ayton has continued to grow and develop for Arizona, cementing his status as one of the top players in all of college basketball. The 7-1 forward posts mind-boggling numbers night in and night out and is the biggest reason why the ‘Cats have been winning recently. 

Arizona is also improving defensively after they were exposed in the Bahamas. The Wildcats ranked as high as 55th by KenPom in adjusted defense a few weeks ago. After a recent loss to Colorado, UA is now ranked 76th but the overall defensive intensity and performance has been a noticeable improvement for the team that should only get better as the season goes on.


Simon Asher
Arizona's Rawle Alkins looks for a teammate to pass to through Utah defense.


The bad:

Sean Miller still can’t depend on his bench to regularly produce for him. Against Utah, the Wildcat bench tallied just 10 of the team’s 94 points. It was more of the same against Colorado on Jan. 8, as six UA bench players scored a total of 12 points and grabbed only six rebounds in a combined 45 minutes of game action. 

Miller also blamed himself for Arizona’s loss to Colorado in which the team couldn’t rally from a 20-point deficit. 

“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,” Miller said. “I’m going to take all the responsibility… I did a terrible job of having our team ready.”

Pac-12 parity is also an issue for the conference. All 12 teams have lost at least one game and Arizona and ASU are the only ranked teams from the conference. Not a good start for the “Conference of Champions”.


Simon Asher
Arizona's Deandre Ayton, left, reaches in to try and steal the ball from Colorado's Dominique Collier, right.


The ugly:

The first half against Colorado was the worst half of basketball Arizona had played since the Bahamas. The Wildcats gave up 45 points and allowed the Buffs to shoot 64.3 percent from the floor, including 18 points in the paint. Offensively the ‘Cats shot just 9-30 in the first half and only 3-13 from 3-point range. The dismal first 20 minutes allowed Colorado to gain a 16-point halftime lead.

Arizona also showed a lack of intensity in the second half of the Utah game two days prior, so intensity and effort will be two of the things Miller will try to fix over the next few weeks.



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