They fell behind early due to an offense so stagnant I was afraid I'd catch the Zika virus, a defense so inconsistent they could not stop a simple dribble-drive offense, and a team motor that made the Wright brothers' first airplane look high tech.
And then they roared back to life like an F-15 fighter with one single mission; destroy the targeted area.
Now yes, these are obvious hyperboles, but they get to a bigger point that this team is basically the shrugging emoji:
You never know what you are going to get and this seems to be Sean Miller's go-to move lately.
Same, Sean. Same. pic.twitter.com/rU3G5FFpKq— Gregor Orbino (@gregorbino) February 27, 2016
I have a running joke with a friend that this team needs to be medicated for being bi-polar. Even though the ‘Cats seem to make their games close (average loss over last 112 games is under four points), there doesn't seem to be a middle ground.
They either play great or they stink, only making games close due to their sheer talent. This makes their performance in March seem to be either a first round exit or a Final Four.
They are truly that bi-polar.
But what is causing this inconsistency that U of A fans are so unaccustomed to seeing?
It is three-tiered. Offense. Defense. Team Effort.
In years past, the team had a ‘closer' of sorts who they could turn to with the shot clock running down or the game on the line. Now they don't. We all knew this coming into the season, but seeing it in person is eye-opening.
The play of Gabe York, who is either literally on fire or the coming of the next ice age, seems to dictate the play of the Wildcats. However, one player should not have this much on-the-court influence. especially in a Sean Miller motion-offense that has never revolved around one player.
Additionally, the play of Kadeem Allen, who came in as a JuCo Player of the Year, has been underwhelming. Yes, he has been under the weather lately, but even prior to his weeks-long illness, was not putting up the numbers many expected.
That ineffective guard play has stymied the team from getting into the offense, let alone scoring, creating rushed and difficult shots at the end of the shot clock.
Aside from individual critiques, the entire team underwhelms when it matches up against a zone defense. This again has been evident over the years, but Miller and Co. either have the worst offense in the country or players who frankly cannot adapt to an offense they have practiced time and time again.
Versus Utah, it took the team an entire half to figure out what they wanted to do on offense (and then forgetting what to do the final two and a half minutes in the game), forcing Miller to use up his timeouts to keep the Utes from running Arizona out of the gym.
The Cats' offense was never able to get into a flow; seemingly uncomfortable with the fact they weren't able to run their offense through Ryan Anderson. who saw minimal touches as Utah's zone packed the paint. Furthermore, the game was choppy, being broken up with an assortment of whistles on both sides.
I've come to the realization that Arizona's hopes in March will depend on facing teams who do not play zone and referees who keep the whistles to a minimum, allowing for a free-flowing game that allows U of A's athleticism to be displayed.
It's never been more evident the Wildcats are without a lockdown stopper than it is now.
At Arizona, fans of the program have been absolutely fortunate to have experienced Nick Johnson, Aaron Gordon, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Without their tenacity on the defensive side of the ball, the gap is showing, and it is much wider than any of us have feared.
In the paint, the defense is fine, with Kaleb Tarczewski and Ryan Anderson protecting the rim about as well as we could expect. The difference though, is the wing defenders' inability to stop or even slow down opposing guards and slashers as they head to the rim.
It first starts with having a 5'7" player on the court.
This is in no way to put Parker Jackson-Cartwright on blast, but while a (usually) efficient point guard (minus Utah where he had a miserable game), he provides little resistance on defense to bigger and stronger guards. Continuing, Gabe York is also a below average defender, and we all saw that at the end of Saturday's game. The trend goes much further than those two players, as Allen and the other guard/wing defenders were blown by countless times throughout the first half.
It's no wonder Miller has resorted to ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ on the sideline.
It might not seem so egregious to be beat off the dribble, but it puts an immense pressure on the defense, creating something of a power-play that usually results in a high percentage shot. Utah got a lot of those on Saturday and Arizona, on the other hand, did not.
In the end, winning ball games comes down to the simple fact of intensity and what I saw in Salt Lake City, was a lackluster attempt at that.
After 29 regular season games, two exhibition games, a "secret" practice game, and the Red-Blue game, Sean Miller cannot be the one who is needed to motivate the team.
It needs to be the players themselves, realizing that subpar play could leave the team with just four games left on the season (Stanford, California, first round of Pac-12 Tournament, first round of NCAA Tournament).
"[Miller] wants us to understand and realize that we have to go hard. He can't keep telling us," said Kadeem Allen.
We've seen Miller try to light a fire under the team and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But at this point, it is not his job anymore. This team needs to realize that, though they might be talented, they are not the most talented in the country and cannot survive by just simply showing up.
"It's not easy to say this," Miller said in the postgame press conference "but this team at Arizona has a ceiling."
Arizona definitely has the tools and pieces to win games in March if they play with energy and a purpose like we've seen happen so many times in McKale. But that requires 40 minutes of effort (we had a Roundtable discussion on this) and while I thought we'd see it appear, it looks like this team might not have it in them.
Overall, this trip might be indicative of the 2015-2016 college basketball season where road teams are at a considerable disadvantage and parity within conferences has reached a new level. It also might be a sobering realization that this team's aspirations for a deep run in the NCAA tournament were merely a desert mirage which stays on the horizon, frustrating players and fans alike.
Hopefully, though, this latest mountain trip is the late season wakeup call the team needs to address its most pertinent issues and enter the month of March with a renewed focus and an intensity needed to make a run towards the NCAA National Championship that has no favorites.