Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Arizona Wildcats basketball: The pieces don’t quite fit

UCLA's Jerime Anderson dunks on the Cats in the first half. Photo by Kelvin Kuo-US PRESSWIRE

Too small defensively in the post and overly reliant on the 3-point shot is no way to go through a basketball season.

Which is making for a frustrating year for Arizona.

The Wildcats are coming off a 65-58 loss at UCLA on Thursday night in which the Bruins exposed and exploited both major weaknesses.

The 6-10 Wear twins — Travis and David — knifed through and worked over UA’s defense, combining for 34 points and hitting 13 of 16 shots. Meanwhile, UCLA defensively cut off Arizona’s driving lanes — sagging off undersized frontcourt players Jesse Perry and Solomon Hill, daring them to shoot.

Perry and Hill combined to go 0-for-4 from 3-point range, and they just haven’t been good enough out there to make defenses pay.

Arizona shot 3 of 17 from 3-point range.

“When we go 3 of 17, it puts a lot of pressure on what we’re doing,” coach Sean Miller said on his postgame radio interview on KCUB 1290-AM.

“We’re not blessed with a great advantage around the basket, whether it’s rebounding or scoring in the post. … And, by the way, UCLA had a lot to do with why we didn’t make shots.”

Arizona is 10-5 overall, 1-1 in the Pac-12, and it’s not too early to worry that the Cats are on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. UA is 0-4 against teams in this week’s AP Top 25 … and the loss at UCLA was really a “bad” one, considering the Bruins’ mediocre-at-best resume.

The trends — poor interior defense, relying too much on the outside shot — have appeared in nearly all the losses.

Mississippi State — Arizona was 6 of 20 from 3-point range, and the Bulldogs’ Arnett Moultrie posted a double-double in 25 minutes.

San Diego State — The Cats were only 5 of 26 from behind the arc.

Florida — Arizona was 9 of 24 on 3-pointers (not bad) but allowed 22 offensive rebounds in the overtime loss.

Gonzaga — UA shot 6 of 20 from 3-point range, and Gonzaga pulled down 16 offensive rebounds, led by Elias Harris (25 points, eight boards).

UCLA — The Wears dominated and Arizona was cold. The Bruins scored 30 of their first 41 points in the paint en route to a nine-point lead with 15:46 to go.

Add up all the 3-point attempts in the defeats, and the Cats are shooting only 27.1 percent (29 of 107) from 3-point range when they lose. Overall, Arizona is a decent shooting team — one with multiple possibilities from distance and hitting 42 percent in victory — but it needs to be a great shooting team to compensate for its lack of size.

The pieces just don’t quite fit this season without Derrick Williams. He provided easy offense in the half-court. He got his teammates open looks. Although he wasn’t a great defender, his presence allowed everybody else to fit comfortably into their roles … and he was known to swat a big shot or two.

Easy answers? There are none.

Freshman center Angelo Chol is active defensively, but he’s not a “stopper” right now and he’s not going to be able to help on offense until next season, at the earliest. Miller tried center Kyryl Natyazhko early in the season, but the junior is now buried on the bench. Alex Jacobson is limited.

Miller’s counter move has been to try to play more up-tempo and to get shots in transition, because this team’s half-court offense — with no size and work-in-progress point guard play — is painful to watch.

But teams like UCLA can turn the game into a grind by focusing on getting back on defense, which USC and coach Kevin O’Neill certainly will try to do Sunday.

“We have some things we to address,” Miller said after the loss to UCLA, “and quickly put this game behind us.”

Search site | Terms of service