Here's two things I learned and one major question that remains to be answered after Sunday night's victory:
Appreciate Gabe York while we've got him
Gabe York became the 51st Wildcat to join the 1,000 point club last night, joining senior running mate Kaleb Tarczewski, who reached the feat earlier this season. This is notable in the case of York because he barely played as a freshman and barely scored as a sophomore. In his first two years at Arizona, he scored 292 points. So to say that he has improved over time would be an understatement.
Yes, sometimes Gabe takes some outlandish shots. Sometimes his "heat check" is a shot from NBA distance that doesn't go well. And then there's his never-ending quest to dunk on someone.
But Gabe York is a true Wildcat in every sense of the word. Last night was a prime example of how he has become a leader for the team and takes accountability for himself and the other seniors on the team. He was the leading scorer with 17 points. He was a key part of jumping out to a big lead in the first half against USC. And when the Trojans made their run, you could see he and Tarczewski, the four-year Wildcats, calming their teammates down, reassuring them that they had this game and just needed to weather this USC storm.
Four-year players are becoming rarer in this college basketball landscape. So to have two seniors that have been through as much as they have, wearing the Arizona uniform, is a major advantage for the Wildcats. In the case of York, we have a young man that might suffer from the occasional overconfidence. But what Arizona really has is a guy who's never afraid to take the big shot. A guy doesn't shy away from the big moment. And a guy who's willing to put the entire team on his shoulders while he tries to shoot the Wildcats to a championship.
Gabe York has occasionally been nerve-wracking to watch over the last four years. But it's his attitude and leadership that could take Arizona as far as possible.
Free throws may be a huge key to Arizona's success
For the second consecutive game, Arizona outshot their opponent from the line by a relatively large margin, leading to a close victory. The Wildcats shot 18-24 from the line with USC just 5-11. This is coming off a game where Arizona shot an unprecedented 45 free throws against UCLA on Friday night. The Bruins shot just 16.
Some will point out that the Pac-12's officiating is less than stellar. Which is a fair point. Others will point out that Arizona's main offensive focus, when the offense is clicking, is to attack the basket at will, whether it's from the post or driving the lane and attacking.
No matter the reason, Arizona is in the top 20 in the nation in both free throws made and free throws attempted per game. Only Washington takes more free throws per game so far this season in the Pac-12.
Teams that make their free throws typically go far in the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats shoot just 72.5% from the line, good for 76th in the nation. But it's the volume of free throws that Arizona has had this year, and the free throw advantage over their opponents that is really something to watch for.
Arizona shoots 26.2 free throws per game and hold their opponent to just 16.8 per game this season. That nine shot advantage is a huge opportunity for Arizona to capitalize on over this entire season and thus far, they have done just that.
While the chances of Arizona getting these same whistle-happy Pac-12's refs in the NCAA tournament are slim, if their offense is clicking and they're attacking the basket, a few more trips to the charity stripe could mean a trip to a fourth-consecutive Sweet 16 and possibly beyond.
Can Arizona play a complete game on both ends of the floor?
Arizona won its fifth-straight game on Sunday night and improved to 21-5 on the year. Clearly, the Wildcats are a very good team. But there is a concerning trend that has developed.
On Sunday night, Arizona's first half was dominant. It looked like a blowout in the making. But after halftime, USC came out and punched Arizona in the mouth, crawling all the way back and only trailed by two with less than seven minutes remaining in the game. The Wildcats withstood the run and finished the game off.
This is off the heels of a Friday night game where Arizona had a horrendous first half and needed a comeback to beat UCLA, outplaying and outscoring them by 16 in the second half.
Wins are wins and, especially at this stage of the season, teams will take what they can get. But the question remains, can Arizona play a complete game?
Sean Miller had similar concerns in the post-game press conference:
"I think all of you have seen that we'll have a half from an offensive standpoint where we take great care of the ball...And then you come out in the second half, for whatever reason you lose it."
"The details of what we do, as a team, matter a lot," Miller continued. "If we are truly trying to become special. We've established ourselves. We're going to win between 20 and 25 games. We're going to have a good season. But if we want to compete for a championship...the details of what we're trying to do have to improve."
"Again, thrilled with the win. Had a lot of good moments. Our first half was excellent basketball. But we're trying to put both halves together and we have just not been that team this season. And we have to eventually become that team because when we get into those elimination moments, you lose, you go home. We're going to go home,"
I completely agree with Coach Miller on all fronts. All of Arizona's losses this year have included some bad stretches of Arizona basketball and some inconsistencies.
Consistency could be what's standing between Arizona being good and Arizona being great.