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What we learned from Arizona’s home loss to Baylor

<span data-author="5158751">arizona-wildcats-baylor-bears-what-we-learned </span> Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday was a big night for holiday parties around Tucson, except if you were at McKale Center.

The only ones celebrating after Arizona’s ugly 58-49 home loss to Baylor were dressed in green and gold, while all those in red and blue left wondering if there were better ways to have spent the evening.

It’s hard to have anything close to hope for this Wildcats squad after seeing maybe their worst performance of the Sean Miller era, or at least since 2011-12. Sure, getting bounced by Buffalo in last year’s NCAA tournament—or by Xavier the year before, or by Wichita State in 2016, you get the picture—was more painful, but at least those didn’t come at the end of seasons.

This one happened with more than two-thirds of the games left to be played. And while that means there’s plenty of time for improvement, it also means there’s many more opportunities for things to get worse.

Here’s what we learned about Arizona following Saturday night’s embarrassing result:

Arizona must expect every shot to go in

Really, it’s the only way to explain grabbing just 19 rebounds in a game that saw 62 missed field goals (and another 14 bricked three throws). Baylor certainly didn’t think all those awful jumpers were going to find the bottom of the net, since the Bears grabbed 50 rebounds, yet each time the ball went up there was nary an Arizona player in position to grab it if it banged off the rim.

Believe it or not but that 31-rebound discrepancy wasn’t the largest in college basketball this season. In fact, that was the 29th time it has happened in a game involving a Division I team since Nov. 6 … but only the third in which the team that was outrebounded by that many was also a D-I squad.

The 19 boards were the fewest for Arizona since pulling down 19 misses in a 63-58 win over Northern Arizona in December 2010, almost eight years to the day. That was just a bad night, though; Arizona finished 2010-11 in the top 40 nationally in rebounding percentage, that 30-8 squad (which featured Derrick Williams, Solomon Hill, Kyle Fogg and MoMo Jones) reaching the Elite Eight.

This year’s squad ranks 239th in rebounding, and they’ve lost that battle in five of 11 games. Their record in those contests: 1-4, the only win coming against Iowa State.

Brandon Randolph is a black hole

On a night when Arizona had its highest assist rate (78.9 percent) of the season, its leading scorer couldn’t be bothered to pass the ball when it got into his hands. And this isn’t a new development regarding Brandon Randolph, who took 16 shots and had one assist.

The sophomore guard is averaging a paltry 0.9 assists per game this season, dishing out 10 dimes in 322 minutes of action. His season high is three, while in six contests he’s not been on the passing end of a made basket for Arizona.

That’s Carmelo Anthony-level selfishness.

While Randolph’s development as a scorer is promising, it can’t be the only thing he does.

An automatic bid is probably the Wildcats’ best route to the NCAA tournament

Yes, we are really talking about postseason chances in mid-December. It’s come to that after a 7-4 start that features one good win, the Maui Invitational opener against an Iowa State team that was missing two of its key players.

And there aren’t going to be many more chances for Arizona to boost its resume, not with how bad the Pac-12 has looked.

Saturday was a microcosm of the league’s collective struggles, with six of the 10 teams in action losing (including UCLA at home to Belmont).

Arizona is going to need at least 20 regular-season victories to even have a chance to make the NCAA tourney at this rate, and probably more. That’s certainly doable with the shape of the Pac-12, but not if the Wildcats’ effort against Baylor is going to be the norm.