The end result of Wednesday night’s game felt like Arizona’s season in a nutshell thus far — a nice victory with some really bad news and an impending sense of doom.
The Arizona Wildcats roughed up the Texas Southern Tigers on Wednesday night, 85-63. Now, there was plenty to be happy, even surprised, about from Wednesday’s game. The offense was firing on all cylinders and the shooting was out of this world.
But, an unfortunate set of circumstances have left the Wildcats without yet another important piece to their puzzle. Without further ado, here are three things we learned from last night’s game:
THE PJC INJURY IS THE BUMMER YOU THINK IT IS
And not just from a depth perspective.
This year’s freshmen have been excellent. And they’ve been the story most of the time. But the play of Parker Jackson-Cartwright has quietly been one of the best parts about Arizona’s first month of the season.
Up until last night, he was averaging nine points, six assists and more than a steal per game. His court vision has been excellent. His three-point shooting wasn’t at the level that it was last season yet but his leadership this season has been fantastic. He’s logged more minutes in an Arizona uniform than anyone else on the roster and his attitude this season is letting that show.
Something that has really stuck out about PJC’s emergence as a leader is his effort on the boards. The numbers may not show it but there have been multiple times this season that Cartwright got stuck amongst the giants in the post, and the smallest man on the floor came away with the rebound.
Seven minutes into last night’s game, PJC was hobbled. He left the game. It wasn’t until the post-game press conference that the extent of the injury was revealed by Sean Miller.
“A considerable amount of time,” is what Parker Jackson-Cartwright will miss.
This hurts. Without even going into how thin this makes the roster (I’ll get into that later), Cartwright has shown how important he is to this team. And in a season where they really can’t afford to lose anybody, losing someone like that stings. It didn’t rear it’s ugly head Wednesday night, but you can bet that it will over the coming weeks.
The reason PJC’s untimely injury didn’t rear it’s ugly head is because we saw something from Arizona that we haven’t seen much of all season — offensive dominance.
The Wildcats shot an outrageous 63 percent from the field. Including 57 percent from beyond the arc. Lauri Markkanen was responsible for five of the eight three pointers made.
As a team, they came into the game averaging less than 12 assists per game. Against Texas Southern, they racked up 20.
The dead-eye shooting and the ball movement has not been something this year’s Wildcats had been known for through their first six games of the season. One has to wonder if Wednesday was an outlier and if we’ll ever see that again.
But one very encouraging thing that has been around all season, with this game as a prime example, has been Arizona’s shot selection. And yes, I’m saying this even knowing that Keanu Pinder chucked two three pointers. This is a team that can’t afford to make a ton of mistakes. The roster just isn’t built that way. But the Wildcats’ lack of bad shots, as a whole, has limited those mistakes all year long.
That shooting percentage and those assists may not be sustainable. If they are, maybe PJC’s absence won’t hurt as bad. But, even if they’re not able to replicate this performance, their shot selection will repeatedly keep them in the win column.
THIS IS THE WRONG TIME TO HAVE SEVEN SCHOLARSHIP PLAYERS
On Dec. 10, Arizona has a true road game against Missouri. A week later, the Texas A&M Aggies show up on the schedule with a neutral court game in Houston. We’re less than a month away from Pac-12 play.
But the real test will be this Saturday against the Gonzaga Bulldogs on a neutral floor.
Last night, the Wildcats stayed out of foul trouble. Rawle Alkins, Kobi Simmons, and Kadeem Allen all logged more than 30 minutes on the floor. Markkanen, Pinder, Dusan Ristic, and Chance Comanche all logged 20+.
This is fine with a seven-man rotation as long as they all stay out of foul trouble. But with Arizona and Gonzaga’s recent rivalry and the fact that every game between the two teams has been a grind-it-out affair, Arizona is going to need some help from walk-ons off the bench.
Tyler Trillo played three minutes against TSU. That was on a night where no Wildcat had more than three fouls. If I had to guess, he’ll play a lot more than that on Saturday. And Arizona will need contributions from guys like him and Paulo Cruz to come away with a victory.