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Arizona basketball: Wildcats’ ability to limit turnovers is a “huge difference” from last season

Arizona had just one second-half turnover against Sacred Heart on Friday

Sacred Heart v Arizona Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Lost in all the hoopla about Lauri Markkanen’s scoring and Dusan Ristic’s double-double during the Arizona Wildcats win on Friday is the fact the Wildcats had just seven turnovers in the game — and only one in second half.

Given that Arizona committed 14 turnovers in the season-opener against Michigan State and then 11 against Cal State Bakersfield in the home opener, a single-digit turnover output might seem like an aberration, but Sean Miller thinks the opposite is true.

“I think this year’s team is a team that can play 40 minutes with single-digit turnovers and that’s a big difference from a year ago,” Arizona’s head coach said. “Early in the year, no matter who you play, you always worry about turnovers. We played the whole second half with one turnover and we played the entire game with seven.”

Arizona is averaging two fewer turnovers per game compared to a season ago, and Miller believes the team’s personnel will allow that trend to continue.

“We have more guards, and we’re playing a little bit of a different style,” Miller said. “With Lauri (Markkanen) and Keanu (Pinder) — both guys are very mobile — I think just really our big guys, Chance (Comanche) and Dusan (Ristic), they do a good job of valuing the ball and making good decisions.

“And we as a coaching staff we are trying to really look at that to put our guys in good positions to not turn the ball over.”

Ultimately, though, limiting turnovers falls on the shoulders of a team’s guards, and that’s where Arizona’s success stems from.

Kobi Simmons has committed just two turnovers in 94 minutes, and Parker Jackson-Cartwright — the team’s starting point guard — has three times as many assists (12) as turnovers (4) through the first three games.

On Friday, Jackson-Cartwright didn’t turn the ball over a single time against Sacred Heart, despite playing 30 minutes.

“It always comes back to (the guards),” Miller said. “There are a few things I wish (Jackson-Cartwright) would’ve done better tonight, but zero turnovers in 30 minutes from your point guard is outstanding.”

However, one guard that hasn’t had the same success taking care of the basketball as Simmons and Jackson-Cartwright is Rawle Alkins.

The freshman has eight turnovers in three games — a team-high. A handful of those turnovers have been offensive fouls.

“Teams are drawing the charge, we’ve worked with him on that, but there’s nothing like game experience,” Miller said. “When they constantly draw the charge on you in a game, it’s the best way of learning.”

Luckily for Alkins, Arizona’s lack of depth has allowed him to play 28 minutes per game, giving him plenty of opportunities to learn.

And consequently, Alkins’ latest outing was his best as a Wildcat. He committed five turnovers in the win versus Cal State Bakersfield, but followed it up with 18 points against Sacred Heart — with just one turnover.

“It’s good to see us be able to do that well,” Miller said of his team’s ability to take care of the ball. “That’s one of the things a year ago that hurt our team.”

You can follow this author on Twitter at @RKelapire