clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Arizona basketball: Inconsistency could prevent the Wildcats from having a special season

The Wildcats have been a team of two halves this season, and Sean Miller says that will have to change if the team wants to win the Pac-12 title and make a run in March

Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

When Katy Perry released the hit song "Hot N Cold" in 2008, perhaps she was foreshadowing the season this Arizona Wildcats team would have. Okay, she probably wasn't, but if she was, she would've been prophetic.

The Wildcats have been a team of two halves this season. They're hot and then they're cold, and it was on full display in their sweep of the Los Angeles schools this weekend.

On Friday night, the Wildcats struggled out of the gate and wallowed to a 10-point halftime deficit at home to an underwhelming UCLA team. Arizona was able to escape with a narrow victory, but needed one of its best defensive halves of the season to do so.

Then on Sunday, it was more of the same in the team's win over USC.

"The story of the game lies in really the story of our season, and that’s the ability to be really good from start to finish of a game," Sean Miller said after the game.

In the first half, the Wildcats played as well as they have all season. They pushed the ball in transition, dominated the paint, hit four 3-pointers, and turned the ball over just a handful of times. Meanwhile, their defense held a potent USC offense to 30 points and a 41.2 field goal percentage. As a result, Arizona found itself with a substantial 16-point lead at halftime against the top-25 team.

"That’s when we were at our best and you also have to ask yourself, ‘why weren’t we doing that in the second half?’," Miller said.

It turns out, the Wildcats would look like a much different team in the second half, and for all of the wrong reasons. Their offense's efficiency tailed off, meanwhile, the defense couldn't keep USC off the 3-point line. The Trojans hit nine 3s in the second half alone, and cut Arizona's once near-20 point lead to just two with six minutes left in the game.

"Our first half was excellent basketball, but we’re trying to put both halves together, and we just have not been that team this season," Miller said. "if you held a team to 30 points in a half and then they score 30 points from the 3-point line in the second half, why would you ever leave the game feeling good about your team?"

There are lot of reasons Sean Miller could feel good about his team. After all, it has won five games in a row and climbed its way back to the top of the Pac-12 Conference standings in the process. He won't deny that it's a good team, but is it anything more than that?

"The details of what we do as a team matter a lot if we truly are trying to become special," he said. "We’ve established ourselves. We’re going to win between 20 and 25 games. We’re going to have a good season. But if you want it to be for a championship or you want to get into March and all of a sudden catch fire and all of us look back and say ‘we least expected Arizona to make a run when they did’, the details of what we’re trying to do have to improve."

"And it’s not one player, it’s really our team," he continued. "We have struggled with those details, and we’re at a point now where we’re going to keep working, teaching, but a few things are going to have to change for us to take things to that next step."

What exactly are those details he's referring to? Taking care of the basketball is one of them.

"I think all of you have seen that we’ll have a half from an offensive standpoint that we really do a great job of taking care of the ball, maybe playing a half with three turnovers, six turnovers," Miller said. "And then [we] come out in the second half, for whatever reason, [we] lose it.  [We] turn it over 10 times or more."

Making a consistent effort defensively is another.

"We’re not a consistent defensive team, we do it in stretches," Miller said after the UCLA game.

"We’ve been the team defensively where maybe in the first half we weren’t very good, as evidenced against UCLA in the first half. But in the second half, we raise our level and we find a way to be much better," Miller said after the win versus USC.

But despite its Jekyll and Hyde tendencies, Arizona has put itself in a position to win the conference. But there's a difference between being in a position to win, and actually doing it. In order to win the Pac-12 and/or make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, this team will have to find a way to sustain a high effort and execution level for a full 40 minutes -- something it rarely has done this season.

Otherwise, the Wildcats' inconsistency will ultimately be the reason for their demise.

"We have to eventually become that team," Miller said. "We’ve established ourselves that we’re good, [but] if we want more than that, if we want a real chance at this regular season championship, we can’t just do the things we did in the second half. Can't. We’re going to run out of time."

"Because when we get into those elimination moments – when you lose or you go home-- we’re going to go home and we’re not going to have the chance to talk about [how] we needed to play better defense in the second half."