Quality over quantity is great approach when talking about 3-point shooting.
It is not so great when the subject is free-throw shooting, yet it sums up the Arizona Wildcats’ offense to a tee this year.
Arizona is shooting a terrific 75.4 percent from the charity stripe this season, but its free-throw rate — the number of free throw attempts per field goal attempt — is .354, its lowest ever in the Sean Miller era.
“We’ve traditionally done a good job of getting to the free throw line and when you can’t get there, that hurts,” Miller said.
It sure did Sunday in Arizona’s loss to Alabama. The Wildcats only took nine free throws, tying the season low they set in the loss to Auburn. Meanwhile, Alabama made 28 trips to the stripe, making 16 en route to a three-point win.
That differential was not the result of partial officiating, but Arizona’s passiveness on offense, plus some late-game fouling. The Wildcats contently launched 24 treys and a host of mid-range jumpers instead of driving the lane.
“We became a jump-shooting team, not just 3s, but some of our 2s were just 15-foot, 17-foot pull-ups,” Miller said. “Can’t really say we didn’t get the ball inside because Chase Jeter had maybe his best overall offensive night. When he got it, he scored it. We can maybe have gotten it to him even a little bit more. What we didn’t have is strong drives, second shots, players attacking the basket after movement. And when you rely on jump shots it can be a very inconsistent feeling.”
Arizona’s offense has been exactly that: inconsistent.
It ranks 61st in the country in adjusted efficiency, and while it has produced some impressive outbursts this season (Cal Poly, Georgia Southern, Utah Valley), it has also been the victim of some nasty slumps (Auburn, Gonzaga, Alabama).
The Wildcats’ shot selection hurts their defense, too.
Arizona’s 3-point rate is the highest its even been under Miller (.382), yet it’s shooting just 33.5 percent from deep, its lowest rate under his watch. Unlike the Wildcats’ free-throw shooting, they are opting (whether intentionally or not) for quantity over quality when firing from beyond the arc.
That kind of shot distribution is not a huge surprise since their guard-heavy roster lends itself to it, but by shooting such a low percentage, the Wildcats leave their transition defense, which already has problems of its own, out to dry.
Missing 3s leads to long rebounds, which result in fast-break opportunities for opponents — a chain reaction that proved costly against the Crimson Tide, and could continue to spell trouble for the Wildcats, who are in search of more balance.
“Part of transition defense is what you do on offense because what ignites a lot of transition opportunities is poor play on offense, lack of execution, a turnover, a quick shot that’s a bad shot,” Miller said. “We had a few of those things happen as well, which puts more pressure on our transition defense, and on the road that’s even more important because, as you know, dunks and transition flurries on a home court ignites the crowd and it starts to work against you.”