After being burned by second-chance points in Sunday’s loss to Alabama, the Arizona Wildcats hoped an extended week of practice would remedy their rebounding woes.
So much for that. They only got worse.
The Baylor Bears outrebounded Arizona 51-19 on Saturday, outmuscling the Wildcats en route to a 58-49 victory in McKale Center. The Bears turned 18 offensive rebounds into 19 second-chance points.
“That’s the story,” said Arizona coach Sean Miller, who was succinct with his postgame comments. “We certainly emphasized (rebounding) all week, but I don’t know if I’ve been a part of a stat sheet where it’s 51-19. It’s tough to really expand from there. It steals your confidence. … We couldn’t get a rebound and when you get dominated like that, that starts to feel funny.”
Indeed, Arizona (7-4) had won 52 straight home games against non-conference opponents, the second longest active streak in the nation, and its 49 points were its lowest since a 71-49 loss to UCLA in 2011.
“We just weren’t tough enough,” said UA center Chase Jeter, who had two rebounds in 26 minutes.
Ira Lee was UA’s top rebounder, and he only had five. Brandon Randolph was the only Wildcat to score in double figures and he needed 16 shots to score 15 points.
The Wildcats, who shot 36 percent as a team, struggled to hit all night against a long Baylor zone, going 9 for 28 from 3 and only generating six free-throw attempts. They missed four of them.
“We didn’t do anything well,” Miller said. “It’s the first time this group played against the zone. We had that deer-in-the-headlights look and guys have to make people better. The way they chose to play zone, it’s not about carving it up with plays. It’s about putting players in the right position and driving to pass and moving the ball quickly and moving it into the middle, allowing those guys to be able to turn and face. You learn more and more about your team as the season goes, but we didn’t make good plays when we got it in the middle.”
Still, the Wildcats led 23-20 at the break because Baylor shot just 28 percent in the first half and committed 13 of its 20 turnovers in the first 20 minutes. However, the Bears turned it around and shot a scorching 67 percent in the second half, outscoring the Wildcats 38-26 in the period.
Both teams’ weaknesses were on display from the get-go, perhaps a little sleepy for a 9 p.m. tipoff. The Wildcats were 3 for 10 from 3 and surrendered 13 offensive rebounds in the first half.
Baylor committed six fouls in the first five minutes alone, but Arizona did not take advantage, only taking five free throws in the first half, missing three of them.
Arizona led most of the period, and by as many as five points, but Makai Mason, who had a game-high 22 points, rolled in a pull-up jumper (after an offensive rebound, of course) at the buzzer to make it a three-point game heading into the locker room.
He had a game-high seven points in the first half. Randolph and Emmanuel Akot led the Wildcats with five apiece. A fastbreak dunk by Lee accounted for Arizona’s lone bench points in the first half. Arizona shot 39 percent in the period.
Mason tied the game at 29 early in the second half after — surprise — Baylor tracked down an offensive rebound.
After Jeter picked up his fourth foul with 15:49 left in the second half, Mario Kegler gave the Bears the lead when he tipped in his own miss.
Mason sank consecutive floaters to extend Baylor’s lead to 37-31, as the Wildcats had four reserves on the court. Dylan Smith livened the McKale Center crowd by, well, grabbing a rebound, before sinking two 3s to cut Baylor’s lead to 39-37 with 9:43 left.
The surge was short-lived. Kegler scored in the paint, then hit a corner 3 to push the Bears’ lead back to 44-37 with 7:35 left.
Smith’s 3s were Arizona’s only points for a seven-minute span. Jeter scored underneath to snap that streak, but Tristan Clark scored over Jeter on the low block, then Mason made a runner to make it 48-39 with 4:03 left.
That caused throngs of UA fans to adorn their coats and make their way toward the exits. They will return Wednesday when Arizona hosts Montana. Miller isn’t sure how his team will respond to such a stunning loss.
“We’re going to find out,” he said. “It’s the first time for this group.”
Featuring a patchwork roster devoid of its usual five-star talent, Arizona was expected to take a step back this season, but being 7-4 with only a couple quality wins was not foreseen.
At this point, it will take a grand effort for the Wildcats to reach the NCAA Tournament, one that was absent against Baylor.
“These are our circumstances,” Miller said. “It’s easy to play and coach when things are going well. Things aren’t going well right now and I know what comes with that. We have to get better and get ready for our next challenge.
“We certainly had a unique starting point, but this is our team right now. We’ve played some good basketball. Tonight was not one of those nights.”