The No. 12 Arizona Wildcats were upset by the California Golden Bears 77-76 in Berkeley on Saturday night. It makes the second time in three years that the Wildcats have lost at Haas Pavilion, and it was also another opportunity to learn what the Wildcats need to improve on moving forward and what type of team they are in general.
Here we go!
Late-game execution is (still) an issue
After Jaylen Brown hit a go-ahead free throw with 18 seconds left in the game, Arizona had enough time for one more play, and here's what Sean Miller drew up*.
Obviously the play was supposed to be a high pick-and-roll between Gabe York and Ryan Anderson, which isn't the most creative play, but it's acceptable. I would've liked to see Kadeem Allen get the ball because Cal couldn't keep him out of the lane all game, but that's not the real issue here. The issue is... why did York let the clock wind down to eight seconds before initiating the play? Not only did this prevent Arizona from getting an offensive rebound and possibly another chance to win the game (a MUST when you're down late in a game), but it also forced York scramble to make something happen once he lost the handle of the ball.
By running the clock down, York had no chance to collect himself and reset the offense. Instead he had to create something off of a broken play. Ryan Anderson had the awareness to set another screen, but with so little time left York was going to have to put up whatever circus shot he could manufacture, and unfortunately it was an extremely difficult look over four defenders.
The late-game execution here was poor, but what's concerning is that this isn't new for Arizona. The coaching staff's inability to draw up an effective last play of the game is concerning. Remember the tough look Nick Johnson was forced to settle for in the Elite Eight loss against Wisconsin? Or what about last year in Corvallis when T.J. McConnell let the clock run down from 28 seconds to eight before making a move to the basket even though the Wildcats were down by two at the time? That was nearly an identical situation to the one York was in this game, yet both times the situation was handled completely wrong.
The point is, Sean Miller is a great coach, but his late-game clock management and play calling leaves a lot to be desired. He and the rest of the coaching staff need to improve in that regard; it's that simple. The losses the Wildcats have suffered in the past few seasons are usually only by a few points, and you can't help but think how the results would be different if they were to execute at a higher level late in games.
The zone defense probably isn't the solution to the team's defensive struggles
Arizona's defense is a problem. The man-to-man defense wasn't working early in the game as Cal was driving and kicking it to death, and were getting open three after open three as a result. The Bears didn't hit as many threes as they probably should have, but the open shots were aplenty, so Sean Miller switched to a zone, and it didn't go so well.
Here are a few examples:
Like, what even is this? What is Kaleb Tarczewski doing here? This is just basic ball movement from Cal, and the rotation to the shooter in the corner should be made fairly easily. Instead it's a wide open three for Jordan Mathews, who shoots over 40% from that distance. Tarczewski has never looked comfortable guarding on the perimeter (ask Frank Kaminsky), and he looks out of place when he's defending somewhere other than in the middle of the 2-3 zone. I don't think you can use Dusan Ristic and Zeus together in a zone defense.
Here's number two:
On this play, York is... well I don't know what he's trying to do here, but it resulted in Mathews being wide open again.
And here's one last one:
Let's just say York was super late to rotate here.
Frankly, they looked like a team that doesn't play zone very often, and that's understandable, because they don't. I guess the hope is that they will get better in the zone as they get more game experience in it, and honestly they're going to have to if it is something that will continue to be used. This was ugly.
The sky isn't falling
Clearly, Arizona didn't play well at all against Cal. But even so, the Wildcats lost by just one point in a hostile road environment. They clearly have their flaws -- show me a team that doesn't -- but they're still 4-3 in the conference, have seven of their next 11 games at home (two of the road games are against the Washington schools), and they should be getting Allonzo Trier back fairly soon. Not to mention that the Wildcats' four losses have been by a combined eight points.
We know by now that this team can compete with anyone -- even when they don't play well -- and if they're healthy and peak at the right time, a deep tournament run is not out of the picture. Don't count this team out because of a few tough road losses.
*all video is courtesy of ESPN