The Arizona Wildcats are in the midst of their biggest break of the season, a 12-day span in between the end of nonconference play and the start of the Pac-12 schedule on Jan. 3. That makes for a good time to reflect on what Arizona has done so far, while also determining what any of that will mean for the rest of the season.
At 9-4, Arizona has its worst record entering Pac-12 play since 2011-12. That team ended up going 12-6 in the league and reached the conference tournament final but failed to make the NCAA tournament.
Coach Sean Miller has repeatedly mentioned that non-league play is meant to help figure out what a team has at its disposal and then make the most of those weapons (while minimizing the negatives) once the Pac-12 games begin.
With that in mind, we’ve broken down each of the 13 games to this point, highlighting what stood out most from those contests.
Nov. 7: Arizona 90, Houston Baptist 60
Arizona’s first game was supposed to be a blowout and lived up to that expectation, particularly in the second half when the Wildcats scored 57 points, their most in any half so far.
Best development: This was the first chance to see how an all-new starting lineup would play together, and who would be the primary scorers. Sophomore Brandon Randolph took the baton and poured in a career-high 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting.
Worst development: With a more guard-oriented team, Miller said Arizona was going to take more three-pointers than normal. It took 22 against Houston Baptist, more than in all but seven games last season, but made only six, setting the stage for a team that through 13 games is shooting 32.6 percent from deep.
Nov. 11: Arizona 82, Cal Poly 61
Arizona shrugged off another lackluster first half to cruise past the Mustangs after halftime, dominating on the boards and turning it over just seven times.
Best development: Ryan Luther was billed as a physical presence who also had a heck of a perimeter shot when he came on board as graduate transfer from Pittsburgh. The 6-foot-9 senior is Arizona’s second-best three-point shooter, at 37.5 percent, and on this night he was 3 for 5 en route to a season-high 17 points.
Worst development: Ira Lee, who missed the opener because of a one-game suspension stemming from his summer DUI citation, had six points and eight rebounds in 14 minutes off the bench but he also managed to foul out. Lee has been Arizona’s most foul-prone player all year, averaging 6.2 per 40 minutes.
Nov. 14: Arizona 79, UTEP 46
Arizona’s largest margin of victory this season was a laugher from the outset, the Wildcats jumping out to an 8-0 lead and never looking back.
Best development: After some rough shooting performances in the first two games, particularly from three-point range, freshman Brandon Williams dropped 21 on UTEP on 6-of-12 shooting with a pair of triples. It was also Williams’ third consecutive game to start his career without a turnover, doing so while dishing out 14 assists.
Worst development: As the Wildcats’ most-experienced player, at least in terms of minutes logged with this program, Dylan Smith was going to be counted on for valuable contributions off the bench. Yet after scoring 12 (in 19 minutes) against Cal Poly the junior was 0 for 5 from the floor and missed five of six free throws, starting a four-game in which he didn’t make a field goal.
Nov. 19: Arizona 71, Iowa State 66
Arizona passed its first real test of the season, rallying from down nine at the half to win its opening game of the Maui Invitational.
Best development: There must have been something about the island air that awoke Justin Coleman’s offensive game, because after scoring just 18 points in Arizona’s first three games the graduate transfer from Samford erupted for 18 points. Fifteen of those were in the second half, including nine straight at one point, and he kept that up the rest of the Maui trip with 62 points in three games.
Worst development: After contributing 66 points in the first three games, Arizona’s bench was almost nonexistent against Iowa State with six points on 1-of-6 shooting. The Wildcats reserves combined for only 19 points in Maui.
Nov. 20: Gonzaga 91, Arizona 74
Arizona suffered its first loss of the season, though for a while it looked like the Wildcats were going to score a major upset. They led Gonzaga by 13 early in the second half before collapsing in a flurry of turnovers and costly fouls.
Best development: Though it didn’t end well, the fact Arizona hung with—and was outplaying—Gonzaga for 20-plus minutes was as promising a development as anything to this point in the season. It helped that Coleman continued to be aggressive offensively, scoring a season-high 28 points that featured six threes.
Worst development: Chase Jeter wasn’t having a particularly great game, with just three points and five rebounds, but his ejection (after making a bad foul and then getting a technical for complaining about it) with 12:03 left changed everything. It was the first time the Wildcats felt how significant it was not to have the Duke transfer on the court.
Nov. 21: Auburn 73, Arizona 57
Relegated to the “late” game in Maui, which was for third place, Arizona was in no condition to deal with a physical and athletic Auburn squad so soon after playing Gonzaga. The Wildcats were handled from the tip to the final buzzer.
Best development: Truthfully, the only good thing to come from this game was how it helped Arizona’s strength of schedule. Losing to a top-10 team looks better than beating a bad one.
Worst development: A night after dishing out only three assists on 21 made field goals, the Wildcats assisted on just nine of 20 makes against Auburn. But unlike the Gonzaga game, where all that one-on-one play at least led to 30 free throw attempts, Arizona only took nine foul shots as it settled for contested jumpers rather than good looks.
Nov. 29: Arizona 100, Georgia Southern 70
Back at home and no longer facing juggernauts, Arizona posted its season-best in points against a team that is expected to contend for the Sun Belt Conference title.
Best development: A lineup change, meant to boost the bench scoring, moved Emmanuel Akot into Ryan Luther’s starting spot. Yet it was sophomore guard Alex Barcello who shined most among the reserves, scoring a career-high 16 in just 13 minutes of action after going scoreless in 26 minutes over the four previous games.
Worst development: Arizona continued to struggle from three-point range, going 8 of 27, with the most common launchers (Randolph, Smith and Williams) going a combined 4 of 19. Sadly, many of these misses were on open looks.
Dec. 2: Arizona 76, Connecticut 72
Arizona passed its first road test, looking composed from wire to wire against a rising Connecticut team hoping to avenge a loss in Tucson the previous year.
Best development: When Arizona gets to the foul line it has been money, shooting 73.5 percent for the season. In a tight game down the stretch, the Wildcats had ice in their veins by making 11 of 12 shots in the final 2:13.
Worst development: That clutch performance at the line bailed out an Arizona offense that didn’t make a field goal in the final 6:43. Randolph had 20 points but was 5 of 15 from the field, his worst shooting clip of the season.
Dec. 6: Arizona 80, Utah Valley 69
Arizona avoided a disastrous home loss—a trend that would continue throughout December—by rallying from down 12 at halftime. The Wildcats outscored Utah Valley 51-28 in the second half.
Best development: A season-best 12 three-pointers (on 22 attempts) showed Arizona can connect from deep when it gets the right shot. It helped that Randolph came out of the locker room after halftime on fire, draining four triples in the first 3:11 to completely erase the deficit.
Worst development: Arizona turned it over 16 times, 11 of those coming in the first half, the third of four games this season with at least 16 giveaways.
Dec. 9: Alabama 76, Arizona 73
Another slow start saw Arizona down 19 in the first half, and though it got that down to nine at halftime and briefly took the lead in the second half the Wildcats were a few defensive stops away from being able to pull out a road win.
Best development: Jeter, who is shooting 65.7 percent from the field, took only three shots against Utah Valley but in this one he was fed the ball early and often. He went 9 of 16 from the field, scoring a then-career high 19 points to go with nine rebounds and two blocks.
Worst development: This was the second game in a row that once Miller turned to the bench after the first TV timeout everything went to crap. The starters didn’t play together again the rest of the first half, prompting the coach to re-evaluate his substitution patterns.
Dec. 15: Baylor 58, Arizona 49
All good things must come to an end, including Arizona’s 52-game home win streak against nonconference opponents. That it came in such an ugly fashion only made it more painful.
Best development: In a game where nothing seemed to go right for the Wildcats, Smith went 3 for 5 from three-point range. Too bad the rest of the team was 6 of 23 from outside and 16 of 48 overall.
Worst development: Baylor was just credited with a few more offensive rebounds while you’re reading this, adding to their 18-5 edge on the offensive boards and 51-19 overall advantage. The Bears had 19 second-chance points while Arizona only scored once on a possession after it missed its initial shot.
Dec. 19: Arizona 61, Montana 42
It was far from pretty, but after getting manhandled by Baylor four days earlier any win was going to be good for Arizona. The victory looked even better when Montana went to South Dakota State and ended the Jackrabbits’ Division I-best 26-game homecourt win streak in its next outing.
Best development: Sensing a clear advantage on the inside, Arizona regularly fed Jeter in the post and he responded with a career-high 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting. There aren’t going to be many teams the Wildcats have a size edge on in Pac-12 play, but when those matchups present themselves Jeter must be the go-to guy on offense.
Worst development: A concerted effort to take fewer perimeter shots saw Arizona attempt a season-low 12 three-pointers. Only two of them went in, though, a failed attempt at going for quality over quantity.
Dec. 22: Arizona 70, UC Davis 68
Arizona nearly lost at home for the second time in three games, blowing an 11-point halftime lead and trailing several times in the final minutes before Coleman drained a game-winning three with one minute left.
Best development: Coleman’s willingness to be the one to take that clutch shot, his only make of the game, might be an indication he’s going to start getting more aggressive on offense. Since his 62-point outburst in Maui he’d scored only 45 points (and taken 34 shots) in six games.
Worst development: Foul trouble once again affected Jeter’s impact on the game, not just from a scoring standpoint but in his ability to protect the paint. Without any other big men, his absence completely changes Arizona’s makeup on the court.