Gabe York went 3-15 from the field and 1-10 from three (he just kept shooting and shooting) and Kaleb Tarczewski left the game in the second half with an ankle injury and never returned. It's a game the Wildcats would like to move on from, but here are some things we learned anyway:
The defense has serious issues
Arizona allowed a winless Santa Clara team to shoot 43.4% from the field and 38.5% from three. It's the second time this season -- with the Boise State game being the first -- that teams were consistently able to manufacture open shots against the Wildcats' defense.
"We have such a long way to go on defense, it’s not even close." Sean Miller said after the game. "The last two years, if you saw Arizona play, you saw two of the nation’s best defensive teams and we are just starting the ascent to potentially one day arrive somewhere in the stratosphere of that."
What's going to happen when they face the better teams in the Pac-12, or heck, their next opponent, the Kris Dunn-led Providence Friars? It's a scary thought.
This game also made it obvious that the Wildcats don't have a lockdown defender this season. They let Jared Brownridge go off for 44(!) points. Last season, Sean Miller could have put Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, T.J. McConnell, or Stanley Johnson on Brownridge to slow him down. This time he was used Kadeem Allen and Elliott Pitts, and yeah... it didn't go so well (though I was encouraged by Pitts' effort).
"That doesn’t at all mean that Brownridge didn’t earn his baskets tonight and that Santa Clara didn’t execute their game plan, they really did," Miller said. "Did they play against an outstanding defensive team tonight? No."
Maybe someone will emerge as the team's lockdown defender as the season progresses and the struggles defensively will be fixed as the players get accustomed to the new rules, but man, that side of the ball does not look good right now.
The struggles against zone defenses haven't gone away
Coming into the season, I felt that the team's improved perimeter shooting would help them produce against zone defenses, but that doesn't look like the case so far. The team still moves the ball without purpose and and they don't seem to want to penetrate the zone either by pass or off the dribble. They're too content with settling for threes and when they're not hitting them -- such as in this game as they shot 3-22 from behind the arc -- they simply have trouble scoring consistently.
3-22 is not something you can expect to see very often from this Arizona team, but still, if the shots aren't falling, they have to get something going towards the rim. Especially when there is such a distinct size advantage as there was in this game.
Gabe York's confidence might be too high
After York's hot start to the season, Miller said the guard has earned the right to have a green light on offense. While I don't mind York looking to create for himself, he forced the issue too much against Santa Clara. He struggled all night long, yet continued to force up shot after shot, many weren't even good looks. Eventually he finished 3-15 from the field and 1-10 from three. That's unacceptable and cannot continue to happen moving forward.
With the amount of attention players like Ryan Anderson and Kaleb Tarczewski command and Arizona's point guards' ability to create, the shots will come to York. He shouldn't have to feel like he has to take "x" amount of shots each game. Hopefully this is one of those "it happens" games. Sean Miller felt it was, at least.
"He had a really hard night tonight," he said after the game. "A couple games ago against Boise St., Gabe was terrific and we would have won if he didn’t play that well. You are going to have games from time to time that aren’t going to go well. Tonight didn’t go well for him."
This will serve as a learning experience
You know how you learn something from your mistakes? Well, it sure sounds like that's the case with Sean Miller after this game. Allonzo Trier played well, and arguably should've replaced York down the stretch, but he inexplicably played just 12 minutes. Dusan Ristic played only 14 minutes, and the team could have used his size and scoring ability after Tarczewski left with an injury in the second half.
Miller's rotations were confusing all game, and he admitted his coaching was subpar.
"If you go to the 5 minute mark in the first half, we were really in command and I subbed a number of guys and from that substitution on I don’t think we really regained any type of control of the game," he said.
"I told the guys at the end of the game, I really did a terrible job coaching the team," he added. "We have to look at who is playing well together, maybe playing guys more at one position instead of at multiple positions. What happens is you settle in and improve and get better. At this time of year you are really looking for improvement and I think tonight’s game sets us up to learn a lot about our team moving forward."
Regardless of how Miller coached Thursday, him being able to realize his mistakes is an important attribute. The last thing you want is a coach that's stubborn and continues to roll with what doesn't work. That's not the case with Sean Miller. He and the team will learn from this lackluster performance and they'll be better as a result.
"You like to learn a lot about your team and tonight I think we got a heavy dose of a lot of lessons and a lot of things that are going to help us move forward," Miller said.