Arizona's shooting against UCLA wasn't just bad, it was record breaking bad
Arizona Men's Basketball coach Sean Miller, yells at the referee after disagreeing with their decision not to call a technical violation.
"We just weren’t ready for it. It’s a man's game." These were the words uttered by Arizona head coach Sean Miller to describe the physicality UCLA showed after the Wildcats displayed arguably the most embarrassing performance in McKale Center history Saturday night against a Bruins team that was not your typical bunch from Westwood.
This UCLA team came in at 12-11 in Mick Cronin’s first season, a far cry from the teams of year’s past that featured the likes of Lonzo Ball, Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook.
UCLA came in ranked No. 195 in the country in field goal percentage defense, sandwiched in between Montana and Brown University. That same defense that forced Arizona into the worst shooting night McKale Center has seen from a home team, a 25.4% effort that saw Arizona make just three shots over the final 11 minutes.
Their 3-point defense? Only three teams in the entire country came in worse at defending beyond the arc than the Bruins.
It didn’t matter Saturday night. That same defense forced Arizona to miss all 12 of their attempts from three in the second half.
You may think UCLA did something different on defense than the Wildcats normally see or expect. Quite the opposite. Miller warned everyone after Arizona barely squeaked out an 85-80 victory over USC on Thursday despite not making a field goal during the final eight minutes of the game that this UCLA team was not one to glance past.
“They’re that group that can come in and really give the sloppy, fat and happy team a lesson,” Miller said. “We sometimes can be that team.”
Saturday night, that “sloppy, fat and happy” Arizona team was given a strict diet of defense by the Bruins.
The loss marks the seventh of the season for the Wildcats, and while it is undoubtedly the worst for a team that had looked like they were finally hitting their stride thanks to lineup changes and an improving bench, certain trends are starting to show themselves in each Arizona loss.
Nico Mannion’s Shooting
Miller’s best teams at Arizona were highlighted by their strong backcourt play, with T.J. McConnell anchoring two teams that came within a game of reaching the Final Four.
The feeling around Tucson this season was that Mannion could be even better in what will be his lone season in an Arizona uniform, thanks to his ability to not only find teammates with pinpoint passing, but his scoring ability as well.
Arizona will go as far this season as their freshmen take them, and it is no surprise that they don’t play as well when Mannion is off his game.
Mannion has combined to shoot 30.6% (31-101) in the seven Arizona losses, including 24% (10-41) from three. In Arizona wins, Mannion is shooting 46% (74-160) from the field and 39% (29-74) from three.
While Mannion’s struggles might receive the most attention due to his high-profile status coming into college basketball, he certainly isn’t the only Wildcat struggling with his shot.
Arizona as a whole is shooting just 26.3% (38-144) from beyond the arc, with a 2-18 performance against Baylor and a 3-16 performance against St. John’s being a huge reason for close losses in those two matchups.
The Wildcats have shot over 30% in just two of their six losses from 3-point range, with Miller saying a big reason the team runs so hot and cold being a byproduct of being led by the freshman class.
“We have our three most of everything — most minutes played, most point total — freshman guys,” Miller said. “Thank goodness we have them, they’ve done a great job. But when you’re riding their production every day and every game, there’s going to be some ups and downs.”
While it is no secret Arizona has had its struggles against more physical teams on the glass, the improved depth and size was supposed to correct that going into this season. While it has carried over in some games, a big reason for Arizona's losses is due to their effort on the boards.
Arizona has only out-rebounded their opponent in one of their six losses and struggle to get to the glass outside of Zeke Nnaji, as he is the only player averaging over five rebounds per game.
A big issue is the lack of rebounding out of the guards. Mannion and Dylan Smith only average 4.2 rebounds per game, something Miller spoke on before the USC victory last week.
“This doesn’t just fall on our big players or post players,” Miller said. “We as a team, have to do a great job of making sure that we finish the possession, block out and are physical. We work on it, but just because you work on it, that doesn’t mean that it carries into the game. It really falls on the players.”