After last week’s win over Utah, Sean Miller said the Arizona Wildcats’ defense was like Jekyll and Hyde — it’s solid in one half, but then leaving something to be desired in the other half.
And that type of inconsistency has become a trend for Arizona in its last three games even if it has picked up three wins.
First, the Utes shot 53 percent in the first half, but then just 36 percent in the second half. A game later, Colorado shot 34 percent in the first half, but then 52 percent in the second half.
Then this past Thursday, Arizona allowed 50 second-half points in its 91-75 win over the Arizona State Sun Devils.
In the first half, the Wildcats slaughtered their in-state rivals, taking a 45-25 lead and holding the Sun Devil offense to 37 percent shooting and 0 for 9 from 3-point land.
But in the second half, ASU launched 18 3s and connected on 10 of them. The 50 points ASU dropped was the most an opponent has scored in a half against the Wildcats this season.
“At halftime, it looked like ‘wow, we had the answer,’” Miller said after the game. “They were 0 for 9 from 3, and some of it was they probably didn’t have their best (night), but we had a lot to do with that. The fact they only took nine (3s), and I thought for the most part, seven or eight of those nine were really challenged.
“In the second half, they made some tough shots, but they created a lot of good ones. We weren’t ready coming out at halftime, and if you look at the end result, we gave up 50 points in one half and they ended up making 10 3s in one half. That might be close to a record. In 20 minutes of play, you might be able to count on one hand the number of teams in McKale that have made 10 3s in one half. The fact we were able to win by 16 had a lot to do with our first half.”
Miller attributed his team’s poor second half to the fact that it starts three freshmen.
“They don’t understand a team that shoots the way (the Sun Devils) do, how quickly the game can change,” Miller said. “I bet if you follow ASU closely you would see that because they rely on the 3-point shot so much, there are stretches where it doesn’t go in and then there are stretches where they can get back in the same game. You have to get back to really defending the 3-point shot. There were times when we did defend it and it went in anyway.”
Miller also said that his team’s big first-half lead might have led to some players to start “shot hunting” in the second half while consequently putting less effort in on defense.
“Sometimes when you’re up big, you have individual players who start looking up there, kind of asking that question: 'How many points do I have?' And it takes away from their effort on defense and can take away from ball movement,” Miller said. “I’m not saying that was the case with us, but you wonder because our intensity, our togetherness, we had some breakdowns in the second half that we didn’t have in the first half. We addressed that.”
And it had to be addressed, per Miller, because the Wildcats can’t afford to let that type of defensive performance carry over to the team’s upcoming road trip to Los Angeles where they will face two teams that are far better than ASU.
USC has struggled of late, but is still 15-3, and UCLA boasts the nation’s best offense.
“A lot of times if you start turning it off, it doesn’t come back on right away,” Miller said. “We have to be a team that’s together on defense and offense.
“You’re not going to be perfect for every game, you’re not going to be perfect for 40 minutes. I understand that. We did some great things tonight. We’re thrilled to have won the game, but when you give up 50 in the second half and you gave up only 25 in the first half, that has to be addressed because a lot of time it bleeds into the next game and the place we’re going next, we have to be at our best to have any chance at all, both at USC and UCLA.”
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