After a much-needed week off following a rare home loss to the UCLA Bruins, the seventh-ranked Arizona Wildcats return to action Saturday when they will wrap up Pac-12 play against the in-state rival Arizona State Sun Devils in Tempe.
By falling to the Bruins, Arizona’s path to an outright Pac-12 title and the No. 1 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament becomes rather bleak.
Realistically, the Wildcats (26-4, 15-2 Pac-12) are playing to lock up a share of the Pac-12 title and the No. 2 seed in the Pac-12 Tournament.
And even though ASU (14-16, 7-10 Pac-12) sits in the bottom half of the conference, winning in Tempe has not been easy for Arizona in recent seasons.
The Wildcats won last season’s matchup in Tempe 94-82, but the Sun Devils won the two matchups before that.
“Those games are usually the most exciting games to play,” said UA center Dusan Ristic. “A lot of ASU fans and a lot of our fans are going to be at the same game, so it’s going to be interesting, but we have to handle business on the court. We can’t think about some outside factors.
“We have to be ready 100 percent as a team and come back after this loss against UCLA.”
What sunk Arizona against UCLA was its zone offense and an inability to keep the Bruins off the offensive glass. UCLA had 13 second shots and 20 second-chance points.
Miller does not think either shortcoming will be a recurring problem for Arizona.
“I know that there’s probably a lot that’s being talked about in terms of our zone offense versus UCLA’s zone or UCLA’s improved zone,” Miller said, before reading off some stats.
“UCLA played their zone 29 possessions against us. At the end of the day we had 31 points in the 29 possessions they played zone. That’s good. Where it felt funny was the first eight times in the second half that they played their zone, we went 1-for-8 against it. And simultaneously, [UCLA] caught fire on offense and I used our timeouts to stay in the game. So you look at the game and it looks like ‘boy we really struggled against the zone.’
“I think the more accurate statement is for a portion of the second half, we really struggled against their zone and that coupled with the 13 second shots, that’s as accurate of an assessment as a coach can ever give.”
After the game, Miller said the team’s inability to execute against UCLA’s zone was fixable, but he wasn’t sure if the same could be said for UA’s defensive rebounding struggles.
On Monday, Miller reversed course.
“I mean, we’re not going be 26-4 and be a really good defensive rebounding team, be a physical team ... and now all of a sudden we don’t know how to play basketball,” he said. “That’s really not an issue.”
It likely will not be an issue on Saturday as ASU is 301st (of 351) in the country in offensive rebounding percentage.
The Sun Devils do lead the Pac-12 in turnover margin, though (+3.43). They also play zone most of the time.
Arizona beat ASU 91-75 in the first matchup, using a strong first half to topple the Sun Devils.
The Wildcats led 45-25 at halftime, but faded in the second half.
ASU went 10-of-19 from 3 and wound up outscoring Arizona 50-46 in final 20 minutes.
“In the second half, they made some tough shots, but they created a lot of good ones,” Miller said after that game. “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.”
38 percent of ASU’s points this season come from the 3-point line, the 16th-highest mark in the country, per KenPom.
If the Sun Devils are going to pull off the upset Saturday, their 3s will need to be falling.
In their last two wins over Arizona in Tempe, ASU shot 47 percent and 33 percent from 3, respectively.
The Sun Devils shoot 37 percent from 3 as a team this season, with four players — Kodi Justice, Shannon Evans II, Torian Graham, and Tra Holder — shooting 36 percent or higher from that range.
Sun Devil depth
In the first matchup, both teams had depth issues. The Wildcats were without Allonzo Trier, limiting them eight active scholarship players, while the Sun Devils were limited to seven players.
This time around, Trier will be playing, giving Arizona a ninth man, while ASU’s depth has continued to thin out.
Against UCLA last Thursday, ASU only used one bench player and he (Ramon Vila) played one minute. Literally one minute.
Look at this crazy box score:
The Sun Devils added a seventh man to their rotation in their comeback victory over the USC Trojans a few days later, but a lack of bodies is a serious issue for them as they have dealt with transfers among other things.
Some more Arizona things
Since our basketball coverage was more spaced out this week than usual due to there being a week between games, I figured I would aggregate some of it here in case you missed anything:
- Sean Miller worried about keeping Wildcats free from distractions
- Arizona expected to add at least one more player to its 2017 recruiting class
- Lauri Markkanen and Allonzo Trier are trending in opposite directions as the calendar flips to March
- Wildcats projected to be a 3-seed in our bracketology
- Kadeem Allen, Wildcats to benefit from extra day off before ASU game
How to watch Saturday’s game
Time: 2 p.m. MST
Live stream: CBS All Access
How they match up
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