Arizona's 57-46 victory against the USC Trojans on Sunday wasn't pretty, not by a longshot.
The Wildcats, despite shot opportunities so open only practice could replicate them, hit just 2-of-15 three-pointers and used Jesse Perry's speed advantage to get the forward 20 much-needed points. Much of the time, Perry was matched against 7-foot center Dewayne Dedmon, and Arizona's leading scorer on the evening picked his shots carefully en route to shooting 9-for-13 from the field.
The victory bumped Arizona's Pac-12 record to 2-1 and avoiding a loss to the lowly Trojans side-stepped a doomsday scenario in a must-win game.
However, it didn't help ease concerns that the Wildcats are nowhere near a lock for an NCAA tournament berth.As they had the past four games following an embarrassing loss to Gonzaga, Arizona relied upon its defense to scrap out the victory. It held USC to 16 first-half points and scored 32 of its own to build a lead solid enough to hold off an anemic USC offense.
But the Trojans attacked Arizona during the second half, and won the battle 30-25 as they put a scare into head coach Sean Miller's crew.
It's not impressive to hold an offensively-challenged USC team to 46 points, but in giving up 29 percent shooting from the floor that could have been even lower had the Wildcats not turned the ball over 17 times to the Trojans' nine, Arizona can say its team is improving on the defensive side of the ball.
And though they looked hesitant, overly-forced and at times timid offensively, Arizona survived a trip to the Los Angeles area that could have ended up much, much worse.
Turnovers highlight offensive struggles
Turnovers, as they were against UCLA, defined the Arizona offense, and it's now a matter of if -- not when -- the Wildcats will be able to find their offensive identity without a go-to scorer.
Arizona has its inside presence; the bullying duo of Perry and Solomon Hill can get the job done despite a size disadvantage on most nights. But on the perimeter and on the wings, there isn't much there.
Kevin Parrom (no points, one assist, two boards) still hasn't looked the same after recovering from being shot, and Brendon Lavender doesn't provide enough outside an accurate jumper to give him minutes over Kyle Fogg or Nick Johnson.
And in general, Arizona's freshmen look like they've all hit a wall.
With that, who will the offense key off of and how will Miller figure out the latest piece to this never-ending puzzle?
Hill contributes despite struggles offensively
Solomon Hill had trouble asserting himself in the victory against USC, just as he had in a loss to UCLA on Thursday. It was, however, good for the Wildcats that their starting forward still managed 11 points and 10 rebounds, making a case that he still can affect the game when he's not in an offensive rhythm.
Sometimes he forced jumpers when the Wildcats needed a score, and sometimes he had trouble adjusting to defensive sets that are now geared toward shutting down UA's leading scorer, but over time, Hill -- a heady ballplayer -- will begin figuring out how to operate around the schemes that are meant to stop him.
That coming sooner rather than later could fill in that void of how the offense defines itself.
Youth in the backcourt
Sean Miller is putting his two freshman guards -- Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson -- out for the wolves to feed upon. Johnson has struggled the past two games and he scored four points on 2-for-9 shooting against USC.
Alongside of Johnson, Turner is still grasping when to push it, when to pull it out and generally, how to manage a basketball team through the ups and downs of an entire game. He and sophomore Jordin Mayes combed for six points, six assists, nine rebounds and three steals against USC.
Miller is probably happy with those numbers, especially because the duo of point guards only turned it over three times.