Most Arizona Wildcats fans awoke Friday morning hoping that the events of Thursday night, when Oregon came to Tucson, were simply a bad dream. That the nation’s longest home-court winning streak was still alive at 50 games, that Arizona had gotten its signature win of the season, and that the Cats had made a major statement in the Pac-12 race.
Alas, Oregon did beat Arizona—soundly--ending the Cats’ 49 game home winning streak and sending Arizona to 4-4 in the conference and into a three-way tie for sixth. A statement was made Thursday night. It was just made by the visiting Ducks.
Some keys we learned—the hard way:
Arizona is not a very good team this year
I think I’ve been in denial about this as much as any Arizona fan. Going off recent reputation and the talent on the roster (even accounting for departures), it seemed like Arizona would just reload again like they always do. The Cats jumped out to a good start prior to conference play, with the lone blemish being to a good Providence team on a neutral floor. But right now, Arizona’s best win, in RPI terms, is over Stanford (no. 48). The Cats are 0-3 against the RPI top 25 and a mere 6-5 against the top 100.
A road win over Gonzaga was heartening at the time, but was a bit of fools’ gold. The Zags have work to do to continue their NCAA Tournament streak—ESPN’s Joe Lunardi currently has them as a 9-seed and dangerously close to the bubble. It’s possible Arizona’s best non-conference win(s) will end up being over Boise State. And the one thing this team could hang its hat on was that home winning streak… and that’s now over.
Yes there has been attrition. 5-star recruit Ray Smith has been out all year. Elliott Pitts, a solid rotation player, has been out for some time. And Allonzo Trier has missed time with his injury. But injuries and player issues happen and you have to overcome them. At least we can take comfort that Duke, the defending national champions, isn’t very good this year either.
Not all losses are created equal… and this loss was about as bad as it gets
If you lose a non-conference game, you say 'well at least it doesn’t affect our conference standings'. If you lose on the road, you know you’ll get right at home (especially with a long home-court winning streak in place). If the other team comes out guns blazing and you can’t throw a pebble in the ocean, you chalk it up to bad luck and will execute better next time.
This was a conference loss—and a costly one.
It was a home loss—where the Cats hadn’t lost in nearly three years.
And Arizona couldn’t have started any better, shooting 11 for its first 12 and jumping out to a double digit lead early. The home crowd was rocking. But despite shooting an otherworldly 73% in the first half, the Cats led by just a point at the break. For the game, Arizona shot better than Oregon from the field, from the 3, and from the free throw line. They outrebounded Oregon 29-21. They had double the assists.
But Arizona turned the ball over again and again, to the tune of 19 (to Oregon’s 6 which makes matters worse). For the first time in a long time, there’s really no "yeah, but", no silver lining. Even the argument about Arizona’s losses this year all being by an average of just 2.5 points each is out the window with an 8 point loss. Would having a healthy Allonzo Trier (or an active Elliott Pitts) really turn the tide defensively? If you shoot 61% for a game, at home, it’s pretty difficult to lose. Oh, and while hosting 5-star recruit Rawle Alkins on an unofficial visit. Not really a great look. This one stings. Bad.
This year’s team has totally flip flopped its identity
Sean Miller’s teams have been known for elite level defense and the ability to grind opponents out. The Cats would often win in "SEC Football" fashion, winning low scoring games. Arizona was a fixture in the top 5 of Ken Pomeroy’s ranking for defensive efficiency, which measures the number of points a team allows per 100 possessions, adjusted for the opponent. The offense was just good enough to win. The Cats right now rank 55th in AdjD, allowing 97.1 points per 100 possessions. For comparison, Oklahoma, 1st in AdjD, allows almost five points fewer per game, per 100 possessions.
But Arizona is 12th in offensive efficiency. The Cats score 116.8 points per 100 possessions. Most consider this Sean Miller’s best offensive team (in spite of a turnover epidemic at times). I for one was really excited about the offense, in concert with typical elite defense, but the latter simply is not there. Arizona this year is forced to win shootouts and if the offense stumbles, as happened in the second half versus Oregon, the defense simply cannot make enough plays to stem the tide. 75 points scored, as Arizona got Thursday night, used to be plenty. It's simply not enough now. Really good offense and really good defense remain somewhat mutually exclusive with these Wildcats.
Bonus: Bill Walton is just the worst
When Walton is calling a game and your team is playing—and they are winning—his ridiculous non-sequitur is kind of funny and endearing. When your team is losing it’s grating and annoying. So in this case it was decidedly the latter.