The Arizona Wildcats basketball team took on the Missouri Valley Conference's own Bradley University on Monday night, a school with a total enrollment that fits inside McKale Center almost three times over. Size aside, the Bradley Braves did not go quietly into that good night, keeping the game within 6 points at halftime before succumbing to the second half onslaught of the Wildcats, with Arizona eventually winning 90 - 60. The competition provided some new insight into who this fresh-faced Arizona team is, and what we can expect moving forward.
Here's three things we can glean from this one:
1. Getting to the free throw line is crucial to Arizona's success on offense: Last year's team averaged 25.7 free throw attempts/18.0 free throws made per game, and racked up 611 total free throws on the year. These numbers were good for 5th, 5th and 2nd place in the nation for each of these respective categories. For a team that averaged 76.4 points per game in 2014-2015, that constitutes a significant chunk of the overall scoring offense. The numbers in the Bradley game gave no reason to believe this will not continue with the current iteration of the Wildcats: Arizona went 35/52 (67%) from the line, which constituted a little over 1/3 of their total points. The standard-bearer in this category was Allonzo Trier, who went a clean 14/14 from the line. Arizona got to the stripe early and often against Bradley, as six Braves had 3 or more fouls with over 7 minutes to play in the game. It's no coincidence that this is around the point that the game truly got out of hand for Bradley.
2. Athleticism is King: Again, this was a close game at the half. The difference came when Arizona started to assert themselves physically on both sides of the ball against an especially outmatched Bradley frontcourt. Arizona out-rebounded the Braves 43 -28, forced 13 turnovers, and drew 35 fouls on the night. There were a myriad of reasons for the disparity in the numbers (including Dusan Ristic/Kaleb Tarczewski's size in the paint, Allonzo Trier/Kadeem Allen's slashing ability, and the typical Wildcat defensive pressure we've come to know and love), but it all stems from the athletic ability up and down the Arizona roster. One could argue that we have yet to see Sean Miller recruit the pure shooter/scorer in the vein of Salim Stoudamire or Mike Bibby, but there's no arguing that he assembles athletes that are second to none. This team attacks the paint, gets to the boards, draws fouls, and plays tight defense. This should be a fun team to watch going forward.
3. Patience is a virtue: Arizona did exactly what they were supposed to do against a clearly inferior opponent: they dominated in every facet of the game and won by a lopsided margin. After a few lean years in the post-Olson, pre-Miller era, we know this is not something to take for granted, so there's definitely an overwhelmingly positive vibe to this game regardless of the level of competition. That said, there's always something worth improving. The first half was close, and some of the trademarks of Arizona basketball were missing. Too many points given up, too many free throws missed, an inability to break the zone defense, and, most importantly, it seemed like there was a general lack of productivity from the frontcourt. Parker Jackson-Cartwright, Kadeem Allen, and Gabe York didn't inspire much confidence going in to the locker room. But they came out in the second half, made adjustments, and put the Braves away. It's only game two, and patience is going to be a virtue. This team needs time, experience, and a little Sean Miller magic to begin to gel, and games like this are the perfect opportunity for all of these elements to coalesce. The worst thing we can do at this point is compare this to any team that came before it, especially last year's version. I think with time, all the elements are here for this team to develop similar chemistry and win a lot of ballgames.
All in all, it's a fool's errand to argue with a 30 point win. The majority of what occurred at McKale Center tonight was overwhelmingly positive, and should inspire some confidence in this team going forward. After all, we could be talking about losing to Sacramento State right now.