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Arizona basketball: Three things we learned about the Wildcats against Oregon State

Identity issues, defensive issues, and Gabe York were all on hand Saturday night

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest question facing the No.18 Arizona Wildcats following their soul-crushing loss to Oregon, which also shattered their 49 game home winning streak, was how would they respond two days later, at home, against an Oregon State Beavers team that is one of the weakest in the Pac-12.

The answer is respectably.

Unlike their start against Oregon, the Wildcats did not extend a quick lead, but rather began lethargically. They only led by four at halftime, but used a fast, hot-shooting second half to pull away and win 80-63.

This victory was complicated, and here are three things we learned to explain why:

Severe Identity Crisis

Whereas Arizona imploded in the second half against Oregon thanks to a lackadaisical effort on both offense and defense, not to mention 19 total turnovers, the Wildcats came alive in the second half against Oregon State, hitting threes, finishing fast breaks, and generally playing well together. But is this encouraging as it sounds, or does it make trying to understand this Arizona squad even more maddening?

At the end of January, a time during which teams are gradually starting to cement their identity, Arizona seems more lost than ever. Arizona sizzles to start a game, then wanes drastically in the second half, and in the very next game plays lethargically in the first half only to explode in the second. One minute they are beasts in the post, the next they are getting out-muscled.

The best teams are those that know who they are, that intimately understand their strengths as well as their weaknesses so they can always remain one step ahead of their opponent.

While this win over Oregon State is encouraging, it is also uncomfortably deceptive because the W masks still very present problems that Sean Miller is going to have to resolve in order for his team to make a run at the NCAA title.

Defense, Defense, Defense

It can’t be ignored. Their inconsistent energy is a serious problem, and it doesn’t show any more glaringly than on defense. During his half-time interview, Miller lamented his team’s inability to pull away because after they scored an easy bucket they would immediately allow an easy bucket on the other end. One would think that with the Kaleb Tarczewski and Ryan Anderson towers patrolling the paint, teams would struggle to attack the basket. Yet these two provided very little rim protection as Oregon State capitalized on lay-up after lay-up. Tarczewski was frequently caught snoozing as his man cut back to the basket.

Unreliable rim protection, wide driving lanes, and laziness--these are catastrophic deficiencies of Arizona’s defense. And Miller is going to have to think of something other than a swear-fest to correct them. Perhaps their team’s best defender, Elliott Pitts, could help salvage this travesty, if he ever returns.

Gabe York is Ridiculous

Let’s end with how ridiculously good of a shooter Gabe York is. He scored a career-high 24 points on a career-high 6-12 from deep. He shoots well over 40% from deep on the season, but he was extra accurate Saturday. He would have made one or two more if not for a couple unlucky bounces. Indeed, he is the kind of smooth shooter who can save games. As bad as Arizona is defensively, and as lethargic as they can sometimes be offensively, this guy may very well be the lone reliable bright spot.

Until Allonzo Trier returns, that is.

Let’s assess how well Arizona plays together in both halves with Trier back out on the court before we start calling the Wildcats not a very good team this year. Ultimately, they are still a tremendously intimidating team, and will be even more so if they find a way to play hard and fast for a full 40 minutes.