Here are three takeaways from the game:
This team is only as good as its guard-play
Since Arizona's front court of Ryan Anderson and Kaleb Tarczewski can usually be counted on to have a strong performance, it leaves the Wildcats' guards as the team's so-called "x-factor". During the team's winning streak, the guards, notably Parker Jackson-Cartwright, stepped up their game but, against Colorado, the guards didn't perform as well as they needed to, and it resulted in Arizona's sixth loss.
Coming into this game, Jackson-Cartwright was playing "the best basketball of his career", according to Sean Miller, but he had a setback. In 21 minutes, Jackson-Cartwright had just two points and three assists, while turning it over four times. He seemed to be too timid with the basketball, which was highlighted when Dusan Ristic kicked it out to PJC after being doubled in the post, and instead of taking the open 3-pointer, PJC gave up the ball (though he did take a 3 a few minutes later and airballed it, so maybe he knew his shot was just off that night).
When he drove to the basket, he wasn't looking to score and so Colorado started playing him as such by cutting off passing the lanes. And, really, the numbers tell the story of how ineffective PJC was at orchestrating the offense. He (and the team) had an offensive rating of 50 (!!) in this game (per Kenpom.com), which basically means the team scored half a point per possession when he was on the court. For reference, his offensive rating in conference play before this game was 124.5.
Gabe York, the team's other starting guard, had a rough night too. It was his worst shooting night in conference play -- 4-14 from the field, 1-4 from behind the arc -- and it wasn't like he was taking good shots and they simply weren't falling (except for the wide open layup he missed off of an inbounds pass); he was forcing them up.
York is statistically the team's worst finisher at the rim, but he didn't hesitate to try his luck in this game. He missed a number of those high-off-the-glass layups he likes to take, plus a couple floaters in traffic. Rather than letting others who were having more success, namely Allonzo Trier, have at it, York kept attacking and as you can tell by his stat-line, it didn't go so well.
And do you want a perfect example of York trying to do too much? Well, here you go:
Down three with Arizona needing a basket to extend the game, York desperately tried to shake his defender, but to no avail, and he wound up dribbling the ball out of bounds for a costly turnover. Giving up the ball there would have been nice.
Kadeem Allen didn't struggle near as much as PJC and York did, but he wasn't great either. I didn't think he defended as well as he usually does, as he noticeably had trouble sticking onto his man, but he was decent on the offensive end, scoring 11 points on nine shots. It wasn't a world-beating performance by Allen by any means, but it was certainly the best among the three guards.
Last week, I wrote about who the team's starting point guard should be, and games like these make that decision even tougher. I think a now-healthy Allen might be the safer option.
The team's limitations are what they are
By now, the Wildcats are who we thought they were. They're a team that can range from being good-to-dominant on the offensive end with a defense that performs in spurts.
With only three regular season games left before postseason play, I think it's fair to say that this isn't changing. Miller has said the team has improved since last month, but it will never be an imposing defensive team. The personnel just isn't there.
If you consider the team to have an eight-man rotation right now -- Tarczewski, Allen, Ristic, York, Trier, PJC, Mark Tollefsen, and Anderson -- then there's maybe two plus-defenders in that group. Tarczewski is certainly one, and Allen is the other. Aside from those two, the others are hit-and-miss.
You might think that Justin Simon could be used as some relief on that end, but he's unplayable right now. Simon may have the fourth-best defensive rating on the team (93.4) and has useful tools on that end -- quickness, length, etc. -- but he gives it all back on the offensive end, sporting the team's worth offensive rating (89.0). That makes him the only player on the team with a negative net-rating. Him not being a threat to shoot -- or even create offense -- is keeping him from being a player that could make a difference on this team.
Therefore, Miller will have to stick with what he's used all season, and though the team's defense has gotten better, it's never going to get to the point where it alone will win you a game. The offense is going to have to carry the team, and on nights where it's not as good as usual (such as this game), the team is very vulnerable.
At the same time, when this team is clicking, I do think it can make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Arizona is still incredibly tough to beat
With all these things being said, there's one thing that's undeniably true about this Arizona team -- it doesn't go down easily.
The end of the Colorado game was very similar to the ending of the Cal, USC, and UCLA losses. The Wildcats trailed by by 10 with 3:31 left in the game, and it looked like things were getting out of hand. But Arizona stormed back and had two chances to tie the game at the end. But, just like in those other losses, it couldn't complete the comeback.
The Wildcats haven't managed to actually win one of the games in which they made a furious comeback, but their resiliency will eventually pay off. One time they actually will win one of these games that they had no business winning, and maybe it will be in March.
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