1. Kerr Kriisa continues with his “true” road game struggles
It has been more than evident throughout this season that Kriisa has not been comfortable playing on the road against Power Five opponents in hostile environments.
Whether his lackluster performance revolves around nerves or limited experience, the sophomore point guard shows signs of discomfort, shooting 10/38 from the field, equivalent to 26%. These 38 shots came against the University of Illinois, the University of Tennessee and UCLA.
Unfortunately for Kriisa, only one of these teams ranks in the top 50 in scoring defense in the NCAA, Tennessee. Against the Illini, Kriisa did have an impressive second half, leading the Wildcats to victory back in December. Furthermore, ball security has been an issue in the open court for Kriisa, as he averages four turnovers a game in all three of these contests.
Kriisa had three turnovers within the first seven minutes of action and then began to settle down. There is a common theme from all of these games and that is first-half turnovers, which could potentially mean he has difficulty settling in.
Despite not recording a field goal, Kriisa began to utilize his bigs more in the pick and roll as UCLA’s Tyger Campbell and his veteran leadership gave him pressure all night long. This Arizona team only has one true ball-handler in Kriisa, and if this team wants to make noise come March, the struggles away from McKale Center will need to be cleaned up sooner rather than later as the wildcats begin to hit the halfway mark in conference.
2. Pelle Larsson has shown his willingness to keep fighting
Due to Azuolas Tubelis having a sprained ankle, Larsson got the start for the Wildcats. From a matchup standpoint, regardless of Tubelis and his sprained ankle, giving Larsson the start was an effective move as the Bruins played a “four out, one in” system with Cody Riley roaming the paint.
Before Tuesday night, Larsson was coming off two much-improved games from his early-season struggles. The first half of Tuesday’s game was nothing different. Larsson opened up the game, hitting his first two threes from the left-wing before the under sixteen media timeout. Ultimately, Larsson found his shots throughout the first half, shooting 4/7, and was efficient on the defensive end through both halves.
To open up the second half, Larsson dove on the ground at half court, causing a deflection to give the Wildcats possession under their basket. Despite not having tons of success scoring in the second half, Larsson complimented his play on the defensive end. All night long, Arizona continued to battle, trimming the lead to eight, but Larsson’s energy was by far noticeable on both ends of the floor.
3. Defensive issues
Arizona was challenged with guarding last year's first team, all Pac-12 guard in Campbell. The star playmaking of Campbell was seen as he was scoring in isolation early over Arizona's guards.
This matchup was the first of the season where Arizona was challenged with facing a true past first guard as Illinois' Andre Curbelo did not suit up back in December. There is an area of concern in this department. The Wildcats had difficulty guarding the pick and roll, where UCLA's Riley was hitting elbow jumper after jumper, which rarely happened to be contested.
Having both Christian Koloko and Tubelis in the lineup against a guard like Campbell can always be a recipe for disaster, as the two bigs are not equipped with enough speed to hedge screens.
The Bruins ran tons of action, with Jamie Jaquez being the main focal point, giving Campbell the ability to create with the smaller wing in Larsson. By doing so, this caused a more undersized guard in Kriisa or Kier to have the attention of Jaquez, giving Campbell space to create.
The Wildcats play the Bruins in just a little over a week, so head coach Tommy Lloyd might apply more pressure in the half court, perhaps limiting the isolation situations Campbell had been thriving on. Arizona has not shown these types of struggles in McKale Center this season so far, but this matchup could prove to be more challenging.
The Bruins were top three in the preseason rankings for a reason, so there is no need to hit the panic button after the team's first bad loss.
Arizona men's basketball will look to bounce back on Saturday afternoon against in-state rival ASU at 12:30 p.m.
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