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Arizona-Gonzaga postgame: On the second-half struggles, Jeter’s emotions, Coleman’s confidence, and more

Maui Invitational - Arizona Wildcat v Gonzaga Bulldogs Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats lost to the Gonzaga Bulldogs 91-74 on Tuesday in the Maui Invitational semifinals.

Our full recap can be found here, and here are some more notes.

“That’s tough, man”

When Sean Miller scanned over the stat sheet at the end of the night, one number was impossible for him to ignore — Arizona only had three assists the entire game.

“That’s tough, man,” he said. “There’s not a lot of good basketball being played when you only have three assists.”

Arizona shot roughly 40 percent in both halves against Gonzaga as clean looks were hard to come by, but turnovers made a huge difference. The Wildcats only committed five in the first half but 11 in the second half.

They stopped earning trips to the free-throw line, too, taking 22 of their 30 free throws in the first 20 minutes. It showed on the scoreboard, as the Wildcats were outscored by 25 in the second half.

“Their defense, they started to switch both on and off the ball, not easy to do but the quickness that those two big guys had is very impressive,” Miller said. “I mean they can switch out on guards, they really took us out of what we wanted to do and obviously a tale of two halves and they were the far superior team.

“I think what their defense did is they created a drive out of desperation, drive to shoot, drive to score and you have to move the ball, you have to share the ball and you have to be able to find open teammates. But that’s as much to Gonzaga’s credit as it is to our detriment. They were clearly the better team and especially in the second half, I mean it was 54-29 in the second half, I think that’s really all you need to know.”

Senior point guard Justin Coleman agreed with Miller’s assessment.

“Like coach said, they started to switch one through four, one through five, it was hard for to us run our offense,” Coleman said. “We started to drive and not drive to kick for others, we started to drive and kick for our own, which we shouldn’t have done, that’s what got us in the hole we were in.”

Coleman’s killer instinct

When Arizona’s offense stalled, Coleman put it on himself to get his team going, showing the kind of killer instinct Arizona has not had at the point guard position since T.J. McConnell.

Coleman wound up with 28 points on 7-of-12 shooting, including a stellar 6 for 9 mark from 3. The Samford grad transfer scored 17 points in the first half, then 11 more in the second half, including a 3 that put Arizona up by 13 with 19 minutes left.

Coleman’s 28 points tied a career high and it came one night after he scored 18 in the thrilling win over Iowa State.

“He’s playing with a lot of confidence,” Miller said. “I think last night kind of fed into tonight’s game. Thank goodness he was able to score the ball. A big reason we had the lead in the first half and why we were able to score at all in the second half was because of his efforts. But we have to be more balanced. Being able to get the ball inside, being able to drive the ball, pass, share it, that’s the types of things that we have done well over the years and we have to kind of get back to being that team. Maybe we have to do it a different way, but just driving to shoot and it’s not Justin, it’s really our whole team, that gets you in trouble.”

Jeter loses cool

Chase Jeter is one of the older players on Arizona’s roster and one of two team captains, but he had a rare lapse in judgement in the second half when he received a technical foul for arguing a call.

Not only did it give Gonzaga two free throws and the ball in a tight game, but it was his fifth foul of the night, forcing him to sit out the rest of the game. (College basketball has a dumb rule that counts technical fouls as personal fouls.)

The center’s absence forced the Wildcats to play ultra-small ball against one of the nation’s top frontcourts, and they were outscored 39-21 after he took a seat.

To be fair, things were already trending in the wrong direction before Jeter picked up those fouls, but his disqualification turned a bad situation into one much worse.

“I think the emotions got the best of Chase,” Miller said. “He has to control his emotions in that situation. Really, we’re not a deep team as it is, especially up front, losing him didn’t help. And it really gave them adjust an extra surge of momentum at a very unique time in the game. Even though they were the better team through the first eight minutes of the second half ... at the 12 minute mark it was still really either way. They were up four points, but from the 12-minute mark all the way to the end -- and some of it is they wore us down, some of it is they’re an excellent team.”

Bench absent again

If the Maui Invitational has exposed anything about this Arizona team, it’s that its bench is a weakness.

In 54 minutes, Emmanuel Akot, Dylan Smith, Alex Barcello and Ira Lee combined for nine points, 11 rebounds and five turnovers on 1-for-8 shooting.

Combine that with Ryan Luther going scoreless and the Wildcats didn’t provide adequate support for Coleman and the Brandons.

“If you look at our two bigs, we were 1-6 from the floor with three points,” Miller said. “We need to get more out of them. And then our bench had one field goal and we played our bench quite a bit and ... when you sub like that you need some production. They’re better than they played, but I think firepower off the bench and a little bit more balance inside and outside will help us.”

Auburn next

Arizona will face the eighth-ranked Auburn Tigers on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. MST with third place on the line.

The Tigers hung around with the top-ranked Duke Blue Devils on Tuesday, only losing 78-72, so Miller knows it will be a tough game and another opportunity to learn about his team.

“Right now we have to learn from this game, grow, and that’s what a tournament like this really does,” he said. “Everybody wants to win. There’s going to be one team that’s going to leave here with zero wins and they’re going to be pretty good. Only one team will win all three games and then I think the rest of us will take what we did and then either build from it, learn from it and grow. And that’s the team we want to be. But Auburn’s exceptional, they’re a team that I think can go deep in the NCAA Tournament. And Gonzaga’s that way, Duke’s that way, so for us I think sharing the ball, seeing if we could have a little bit more balanced attack and defending a very, very strong team in transition as well.”