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Commentary: New year, new Arizona? Resolutions for Arizona men's basketball

Sofia Moraga | The Daily Wildcat Arizona Men's Basketball Head Coach Sean Miller yells directions at his bench during the Arizona-UC Davis game on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018 at the McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.

With the clock striking midnight on Monday, 2019 is officially upon us. The start of a new year also means the start of conference play for the Arizona men’s basketball team. After a non-conference schedule full of ups and downs led to a 9-4 start for the Wildcats, the team heads into play Thursday night against Colorado looking to separate itself in a conference that is up for grabs for anyone to win, as no team is currently ranked in the AP Top 25 for the first time since the 2011-2012 season. 

Here are some resolutions for the new year that Arizona could benefit from for a productive second half of the season.

Improved rebounding

Arizona currently sits at No. 186 in the nation in rebound margin and No. 283 in offensive rebounds per game, stats that undoubtedly have troubled head coach Sean Miller this season.

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“Big concern is our overall ability to rebound, especially against big, physical athletic teams,” Miller said at his news conference on Monday. “Our guards have to do a great job of blocking out and rebounding. Really everybody that plays in the game has to do a great job. We have to do it as a team, do the very best we can and battle.”

Arizona's Ira Lee (11) blocks a shot from Baylor's Mark Vital (11) during the Arizona-Baylor game on Saturday, Dec. 15 at the McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.

Miller spoke on how the ‘Cats have been hurt in key moments in their losses at Alabama, in Maui, and most notably, in their home loss to Baylor. The Baylor loss snapped a 52-game non-conference win streak for Arizona and saw them embarrassed on the glass to the tune of 51-19, including 18-5 on the offensive end.

“You can fix it to some degree by emphasizing it,” Miller said. “But for the most part, how we do in that area of the game will be a big indicator on if we’re able to win.”

Consistant backcourt production

Brandon Randolph has proven to be the go-to guy for Arizona this season, with Chase Jeter becoming a much more of a focal point of the offense as of late. Outside of these two, however, it remains to be seen who will score for the ‘Cats night in and night out. 

Early in the season, it looked like Brandon Williams might actually lead the team in scoring his freshman year. He has scored just 15 points in his last three games, shooting 6-26 combined, including 3-18 from three-point range. 

“His numbers shooting the ball aren’t great right now," Miller said. “The more games he plays, the more practices that we have, the better he gets. I believe that his shooting percentage will rise. It’s really unfair to judge him through the non-conference season, because we’re asking him to do a lot.”

Justin Coleman also looked like he was potentially going to be a better scorer than previously imagined. Coleman had a reputation as a pass-first point guard coming into Arizona, but he exploded onto the scene in Maui, where he had games of 18, 28 and 16 points. Since Maui, he has only scored in double figures once, against Utah Valley.

Miller stated after the Wildcats won against UC Davis on Dec. 22 that he may want Coleman to look to score more often going forward.

“We want him to be aggressive,” Miller said. “He does such a great job of getting in the lane and making people better. Sometimes taking his own open shot and mixing that in could help him and our team.”

Faster starts

Arizona has played eight home games so far this season, leading by only single digits going into halftime in four of those eight games, even trailing by 12 in a game earlier in the year against Utah Valley. The Wildcats haven’t led by more than 13 at halftime the entire season, meaning teams have had hope going into the locker room. 

Arizona's Justin Coleman (12) makes a tough pass during the Arizona-UC Davis game on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018 at the McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.

Arizona has, for the most part, blown teams out in the second half of games, but has had to rely on talent against lesser opponents to eventually be the difference. In conference play against teams with just as much talent as, if not more than, Arizona this season, the team will not be able to get out to the slow starts they have had and expect to pull through late. 

This is especially true away from McKale, as Arizona trailed at halftime against Alabama by nine, attempting to stage a comeback late in the second half but allowing the Crimson Tide to pull out a narrow victory.

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