After losing to the Providence Friars on Friday, the Arizona Wildcats got back on the horse (or Bronco) with a win over the Boise State Broncos, 68 - 59. It was the second time in ten days that the two teams faced off, with both ending in Arizona victories. The win gave Arizona 3rd place overall in the Wooden Legacy Tournament.
Given that this was a repeat of a game already played this year, it could have been difficult to learn anything new about the team. But with Arizona coming off their first loss of the young season, this was our first chance to see how the Wildcats respond and adjust after a disappointing performance. Here's what we found out.
1. The team has a short memory
It's often said that a player needs to have a short memory after committing a mistake; most of the time, this is said of a quarterback having just thrown an interception. You might have played poorly a few minutes ago, but that doesn't define how you're going to play now.
Arizona played poorly against Providence, with lackluster defensive efforts and non-existent performances from players who should be key contributors. Against Boise State, Arizona made certain to have a short memory of those failings.
Arizona's defense held Boise State to 39% from the field, forced 15 turnovers, and limited the Broncos to under 60 points. This is a marked improvement from the effort against Providence, which saw Arizona yielding 50% from the field and forcing 11 turnovers. It was also an improvement from the first time the Wildcats saw Boise State, in which they allowed the Broncos to shoot 43%, forced only 10 turnovers, and gave up almost 20 more points.
It's not often that a one-to-one comparison is available to a team this early in the season, since repeat non-conference games are fairly uncommon, so this is a good benchmark with which to gauge the progress of the defense. It's also encouraging to see the adjustments made after being lit up by Nick Duncan and James Webb III for a combined 48 points in the first matchup; Arizona held the pair to 28 points combined this time around.
Some of the players we expect will be key contributors this year also made a reappearance against the Broncos after being notably absent against Providence. Five players scored in double figures for the Wildcats, and the Jekyll side of Allonzo Trier posted 13 off the bench on 5-6 shooting. Gabe York still didn't shoot the ball well, but he stopped spraying shots from everywhere on the court and played outstanding defense. Dusan Ristic only played 9 minutes off the bench and did not score, but he did pull down five crucial rebounds, which helped spur a mini-run early in the first half. Ryan Anderson must literally have a very short memory, because he hurt his ankle not once, but twice, and decided to keep playing anyway.
All in all, the Wildcats bounced back on both sides of the ball in a way that indicates they won't be dragged down by past poor performances. Sean Miller said of his team in his post game interview, "When you lose a hard-fought game like we did against Providence, a lot of times that carries over. These guys did a great job of putting that game behind us."
2. For the love of Lute, penetrate!
I bemoaned the lack of offensive identity after the past few games. It appears now that Arizona is finding, at the very least, something to do with the ball on offense other than toss it around the perimeter until the shot clock wears out.
Penetrate and Crash. I'm trademarking that as the official motto of the Arizona offense.
In years' past, this could have been labeled Penetrate and Pass; T.J. McConnell was a master of the in-lane feed to either Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Aaron Gordon, Stanley Johnson, Kaleb Tarczewski, or Brandon Ashley, creating open looks and scoring opportunities for his teammates. Far too often, when Arizona guards have attempted that this season, the result has been a turnover. Against Boise State on Sunday, we saw that Allonzo Trier, Kadeem Allen, Ryan Anderson, and Mark Tollefsen can all create their own scoring opportunities by driving the lane and using their athleticism to score inside. Arizona crushed the Broncos in the paint, outscoring them 40-24 down low and grabbing six offensive rebounds.
This might seem like an obvious point, but it bears mentioning because this isn't how Arizona's offense has been operating thus far this season. Even in this game, it appeared that the Wildcats were content early to try and post up either Anderson or Tollefsen. This often resulted in a double team, bad shots, and suspect transition defense by the Wildcats. Once the Arizona backcourt made it a point to drive the lane and create scoring opportunities, the game opened up. The Wildcats not only scored inside, they also drew 24 fouls and shot 23 free throws to Boise State's 14. Arizona is probably not going to light it up from the perimeter, and the post-up offense doesn't create nearly as many scoring opportunities or utilize athleticism as well as the P&C offense does.
3. Success will require a team effort, not individual heroics
Ryan Anderson may have provided evidence that he can be a go-to player, but Arizona is going to need contributions across the board to have sustained success this season. I don't anticipate a Derrick Williams-style emergence from any one player on this roster, though it certainly wouldn't be fair to discount that possibility entirely. Instead, it appears that the best-case scenario is something very similar to what we saw against Boise State: Seven different players scored, five players in double figures, and the Wildcats had solid production from their bench. This was certainly a team effort, with no one player taking an unfair share of the load.
Maybe Boise State won't amount to a tournament team this year, but I'd argue that it's difficult to beat any team twice in one year. Arizona couldn't take down terrible Arizona State teams in both meetings the past two years, and those Wildcat teams were some of the best in the history of the program. No matter how you look at it, this win over Boise State was a great way to bounce back after the loss, show promise moving forward, and provide some positive momentum going into the looming game with the Gonzaga Bulldogs.