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Arizona basketball: Limiting turnovers is the key for the Wildcats to have late-season success

The Wildcats can peak at the right time if they take better care of the basketball.

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats are currently sitting in unfamiliar territory. With just nine games left to play in the regular season, Arizona sits at sixth in the Pac-12 Conference standings, two games -- and a tiebreaker -- behind the conference-leading Oregon Ducks.

Arizona also lost its first home game since 2013, to which Sean Miller said it "felt like someone had died."

Add that to the injuries that have hindered the team all season, and you have yourself a "down year".

That being said, the Wildcats' season is far from over.

"Maybe we aren’t good enough to win our conference, I don’t know that yet," Sean Miller said. "But I think there’s five or six teams that are still in the hunt and I’d like to think we’re one of them."

Frankly, it's unlikely that Arizona wins the conference, but making a run in the NCAA Tournament is certainly not out of the picture. With the win-or-go-home nature of the NCAA Tournament, it's all about playing your best basketball when it matters most.

So how can Arizona do that? By limiting its turnovers.

In the Wildcats' five losses this season, they have a turnover margin of -33. And since conference play started, the Wildcats have turned the ball over 120 times, while only forcing 91 turnovers.

"I think from an offensive perspective, we’ve never been more efficient on offense than we are right now this year," Miller said. "Points per game, field goal percentage, 3-point field goal percentage, free throw percentage and attempts."

"There’s one stat that keeps us from being extraordinary on offense, and that’s our turnovers."

Indeed. The offense has been phenomenal, leading the conference in field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, and assists, but the turnovers prevent Arizona from being a team that can just "outscore you".

Pac-12 opponents have taken nearly 60 more shots than Wildcats this season because of the lost possessions that result from turning the ball over. After all, Arizona shot 61% against Oregon but still lost by eight points because the Ducks were able to take 21 more shots than the Wildcats.

"And the thing about turnovers is that they kill your defense too," Miller added.

Of course, turnovers aren't the only issue the team has. Arizona's defense has been lackluster as well this season, as the team has its worst defensive rating (94.7) since the 2012-2013 season.

The turnovers certainly don't help. They can not only lead to easy baskets, but it's also usually easier to score against a defense getting back in transition than one that's set. And for a defense that already struggles to guard in the half court, the turnovers make it even tougher for the team to build any sort of momentum on that end.

Simply put, cutting down on turnovers can make Arizona's offense even more lethal, while also easing the burden on the team's less-than-stellar defense. So if the Wildcats want to peak at the right time and be hitting on all cylinders when it matters most in March and early-April, it's imperative that they make a much more concerted effort to take care of the basketball.

"If we could trim [the turnovers] up, get Allonzo [Trier] back, and continue to just get better every day defensively, that’s what’s going to bring out the best in our team," Miller said.