The Arizona Wildcats will wrap up non-conference play Saturday against UC Davis at 5 p.m. MST on the Pac-12 Network.
Arizona (8-4) is looking for its second straight win after it dropped two straight, and here are some things to watch for when the Wildcats host the Aggies:
Throwing the ball down low to Chase Jeter, as opposed to settling for jump shots, is Arizona’s best form of offense right now. Opposing teams know it, and they are starting to make adjustments, sending multiple defenders his way.
Baylor held Jeter to six points, and Montana had some early success by trapping the big man. But eventually Jeter found his footing and broke out for a career-high 21 points, a good sign for his future as a potential go-to option.
“As people crowd and trap him he’ll get more accustomed to using his dribble,” Sean Miller said after the Montana game. “He’s almost playing it as if he has a dead dribble. That’s experience. The more that he understands he can use his dribble to escape, the better. But that’s kind of where we’re at. That’s the first time people are double teaming him or trapping him and he’ll get used to it.”
Arizona’s offense currently ranks 107th in the country, its worst mark ever under Miller. One possible solution — or at least a way to give it a boost — is inserting Devonaire Doutrive into the rotation.
The ultra-confident freshman has scored 18 points in 42 minutes this season, shooting a blazing 69 percent from the field. While that’s a small sample size, Doutrive’s 17.1 points per 40 minutes are the third-best rate on the team.
Doutrive is still a work in progress defensively, but Miller said he is improving and perhaps has improved enough to finally get consistent playing time. At 8-4, Arizona sure doesn’t have much to lose by giving the exciting wing a shot.
For more on this, check out my extended write-up.
Brandon Williams suffered a knee contusion in practice last Friday, and while he did start the next day against Baylor, Miller opted to remove him from the starting lineup Wednesday against Montana after he dealt with some swelling.
The injury was to Williams’ right knee, the same knee that required surgery in high school and forced him to miss his entire junior season, so it will be interesting to see how Arizona manages its freshman guard moving forward.
One thing is for sure: Arizona needs Williams to get healthy and going. The freshman has taken the second-most shots on the team, but is only shooting 34 percent, a big reason for the team’s offensive woes.
For more on this, check out my extended write-up.
Oh no, zone!
UC Davis has mostly played zone in two of its last three games, so you can expect the Aggies to deploy it against Arizona.
Everyone should. Baylor and Montana did it and they held the Wildcats to their worst offensive performances of the season, averaging less than 0.9 points per possession.
At the same time, Arizona should want UC Davis to play zone, so it can get some valuable reps. The Wildcats pretty much exclusively faced man-to-man defense until the Baylor game when their inexperience against zone was on full display at an inopportune time.
Also: the Wildcats are bound to get hot from 3 at some point, which will only help their execution. They shot 28 percent from 3 over the last two games, and are only shooting 33 percent on the season, but are probably a better shooting team than their numbers would indicate.
Justin Coleman is the only Wildcat converting above his career average, so Williams, Ryan Luther, Brandon Randolph, Emmanuel Akot and Dylan Smith all realistically have room to improve.
Win with defense
Either way, Arizona’s best attribute this season is its defense. Believe it or not, the Wildcats rank 23rd in college basketball in defensive efficiency per KenPom, the best it’s been since 2014-15.
You might think that’s because Arizona’s non-conference schedule has been light, but KenPom adjusts its numbers for opponents.
That said, forcing a lot of misses doesn’t mean a whole lot if you can’t grab the rebound, which has been a problem for the Wildcats at times. Let’s not forget that Baylor debacle.
However, UC Davis probably won’t be able to exploit that weakness. The Aggies rank 301st (of 353) in the country in offensive rebounding percentage. They’re also 328th in offensive efficiency, so expect Arizona’s defense to force another low-scoring game.
Luther or loss
Miller pointed out after the Montana game that, when Ryan Luther plays well, the Wildcats win. His claim checks out. Luther has been held scoreless in three of four of Arizona’s losses this season.
“Ryan has to play with a belief and a confidence,” Miller said. “He’s one of our team’s best shooters. Before he came here and even at times he scored around the basket. I know he can do it. He has the situation with his hand which every day that goes by I think that will be gone, but he’s in his own head right now and the only thing that solves that is hard work and just making it happen in a game.”
Just stay healthy
UC Davis is 3-7 this year, including losses to UT Arlington and Sacramento State, so Arizona should have no trouble putting the Aggies away. KenPom projects a 17-point victory.
So let’s just get to Christmas break without any injuries, OK?