Utah vs. Arizona: Wildcats survive scare but problems are confirmed

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats barely dropped the Utah Utes on Saturday afternoon, but the game confirmed that Sean Miller's team has a number of issues.

The Arizona Wildcats have issues.

All along, it was clear that they're talented enough to survive with those problems, but after the weekend against Colorado Buffaloes and Utah Utes, it's clear they won't last long come tournament time playing as is; improvements across the board are needed, and soon.

The Utes scared the Wildcats, but Arizona eventually pulled out a 60-57 victory in McKale Center on Saturday to move to 14-0 on the season. Much like the Colorado game two days earlier, the Wildcats were in a funk.

It came down to Utah guard Jarred DuBois's three-pointer on a final play that was straight on, hit the front of the rim, bounced on top of the backboard, and was probably expected to fall into the hoop after the buzzer sounded. Considering the law of averages and Arizona stealing Thursday's win against the Buffs, that wouldn't have surprised one bit.

Instead, the ball fell off the rim after hitting it once again.

Overall, it wasn't the turnover issues that plagued the Wildcats. They had a reasonable 11 turnovers, and Utah scored just two points off those mistakes. The offense, however, was still struggling as UA ended the day shooting just 36.2 percent from the floor and assisting just nine of the team's 21 made field goals.

At this point, the point guard issues are still a lingering problem.

Mark Lyons took a game-high 14 shots and hit just three, and Sean Miller didn't have the option of putting pressure on his starter with backup Jordin Mayes struggling (0-for-3) as well. Lyons recorded four assists, but drive and kicks are one thing -- controlling and organizing the offense are another.

Along with Lyons in the backcourt, Nick Johnson struggled by hitting 2-of-9 shots to score seven.

The offense isn't in rhythm. While Johnson and Solomon Hill are playmakers, they aren't the ones initiating the offense.

All of Arizona's problems don't land completely on Lyons, though. Utah's defense was sound, especially winning the battle against the young Arizona big men. Center Jason Washburn recorded 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds against the Wildcats, and forward Jordan Loveridge had 17 himself. They combined to hit 15-of-28 from the floor, well above the Utes' 42.9 percentage overall and 43.8 percent from three-point range.

The slow pace played into coach Larry Krystkowiak's style.

And in Arizona's perspective, its young big men did enough in outrebounding Utah 38-27, but Miller's need to go with a small-ball lineup in the crunchtime minutes showed the youngsters' deficiencies on the defensive end.

Solomon Hill scored 19 points, including a huge three-pointer to give UA a 54-50 lead with five minutes to play that kept the Wildcats in control, as slight as that control might've been. Lyons had 12 and Brandon Ashley added 11, but Arizona had no production off a shortened bench that didn't include struggling big man Angelo Chol.

Arizona fans could guess the single player who gave UA a boost off the bench. Kevin Parrom scored seven points, and his eight rebounds tied Hill for the second-most on the team. Kaleb Tarczewski grabbed nine rebounds.

The Wildcats aren't immortal. They're going to lose at this rate, it's only a matter of when. Saturday's game showed that a team picked to finish last in the conference can play with the big dogs. And for the second game in a row, Miller's team showed its weaknesses that were pretty apparent in the early nonconference schedule.

Whether it's playing down to the opponents or a true problem from the standpoint of roster makeup, Arizona's No. 3 ranking won't mean much and neither will its record.

The question is now about fixing the offensive woes that have developed in the past two games. And it's about figuring out how to develop the young big men on the defensive end while still winning games.

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