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What we learned from Arizona’s loss at Alabama

NCAA Basketball: Arizona at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats lost to the Alabama Crimson Tide 76-73 on Sunday in Tuscaloosa to fall to 7-3 on the season.

Our full recap can be found here, and here are some additional takeaways from the loss.

This is not a first-half team

For the second game in a row, the Wildcats trailed by double figures in the first half, as Alabama ballooned its lead to 19 with 7:05 left in the period.

The good news is Arizona rallied back to make it a nine-point game heading into the locker room and even held a lead in the second half at multiple points. But you can’t accumulate that kind of deficit and expect to beat decent teams. Alabama isn’t Utah Valley.

It’s hard to pinpoint whose fault it is.

Arizona got off to a 10-8 start and the game was tied at 12 when Alabama broke out on a 7-0 run when Arizona had Alex Barcello, Ira Lee, Dylan Smith, Justin Coleman and Ryan Luther on the court.

That would lead you to believe it was the bench’s fault for the collapse, but Brandon Randolph and Brandon Williams replaced Smith and Barcello, and the deficit expanded to 25-14. Then Chase Jeter and Emmanuel Akot replaced Lee and Luther to put UA’s starting five on the court, but Alabama pushed its lead to 30-14.

If there is one common theme, it’s that Arizona struggled when Chase Jeter wasn’t on the court. He had a +13 plus-minus, meaning the Wildcats were outscored by 16 when he was on the bench. That is remarkable when you consider Jeter was only off the court for six minutes all game.

However, it does make some sense when you look at the numbers of the guys replacing him Lee had two points and two turnovers in five minutes. Luther had four points (on six shots) and six rebounds in 19 minutes. They were a combined -24.

You could also look at Randolph’s tale of two halves. He shot 3 for 12 in the first half, but 4 for 8 in the second half, including two 3s.

Late-game execution was bad

While going down by 19 was Arizona’s biggest problem, it still had a chance to win the game after a Jeter layup tied it at 64 with three minutes left.

Arizona’s late-game execution left a lot to be desired, though.

Donta Hall outworked Arizona’s frontcourt for a putback dunk to put the Crimson Tide ahead 66-64, then Coleman turned it over which led to a layup for Hall.

Jeter dunked to cut the deficit back to two and then Arizona forced a miss, but Emmanuel Akot failed to box out and was called for a foul going up for the rebound. Alex Reese made both free throws to put Alabama up by four with 1:45 left.

Alabama point guard Kira Lewis Jr. later hit a step-back 3 over Jeter to put Alabama up 73-68 with 12 seconds left, after Jeter and Coleman mistakenly switched on a screen. Jeter had no chance of guarding Alabama’s freshman phenom in space.

Also: just before Lewis’ 3, Dylan Smith committed a kicked ball violated that reset the shot clock, allowing the Tide to run some additional time off the clock.

All those mistakes — and a bevy of offensive rebounds — are why Arizona could not outscore Alabama in the final three minutes, even though it made five shots in a row before Coleman’s last-second heave fell short.

Chase Jeter is Arizona’s best player

I wrote this after the UConn game too and surprisingly received a lot of pushback, but now it is more clear than ever — Chase Jeter is Arizona’s best player.

The Duke transfer had a career high 19 points, nine rebounds and two blocks against Alabama, plus drew his 15th charge of the season.

While Jeter uncharacteristically missed a few bunnies around the rim, he was still 9 for 16 from the field, providing Arizona’s most consistent source of offense. His footwork on the low block has been really impressive, and as his plus-minus numbers showed, when you take him off the court Arizona is much, much worse.

Rough homecoming

Coleman and Smith had games to forget in their return to their home state. Smith went scoreless in 23 minutes, and while Coleman finished with eight points, six assists and five steals, he also had five turnovers and didn’t make his first shot until midway through the second half.

At one point late in the second half, Sean Miller briefly took Coleman out after he was too sped up with the ball.

This is a streaky shooting team

Alabama was able to grab a 19-point lead because Arizona only scored one basket in a five-minute span, missing nine shots in a row.

Three of those misses were 3s, the rest were mid-range looks by Coleman and Randolph.

Arizona’s other lengthy scoring drought came relatively early in the second half, when it missed six shots in a row after grabbing a 47-45 lead. During that stretch, Alabama turned a two-point deficit into an eight-point lead. Arizona then went on a 10-0 run to reclaim the lead.

Part of the problem is Arizona shot a lot of 3s, going 9 for 24. The other problem is Arizona only got to the free throw line nine times, leaving the offense prone to those droughts when shots weren’t falling in the run of play.

Alabama had similar streakiness with its 3-point shooting, but it went 16 for 28 from the free-throw line to keep its offense afloat.

Arizona will probably be subject to that type of streakiness all season, seeing that it is shooting more 3s this season than the last several years.

38.2 percent of UA’s field goal attempts come from behind the arc, ranking 182nd in the country. The Wildcats were 302nd or lower in each of the past five seasons.

It would help to get Jeter the ball more down low, but Arizona’s personnel also lends itself to taking a lot of 3s, so it is what it is. Arizona is going to live and die by the 3 this season and you better get used to it.

Akot’s shooting is coming along

Akot was 2 for 12 from 3 on the year entering Sunday, and he matched his season total by going 2 for 4 against Alabama. That came after he went 1 for 1 against Utah Valley.

One of Akot’s triples cut Alabama’s lead to 61-60 with 5:40 left. Overall, he finished with seven points and five rebounds. Not the best game, but his production has stepped up a notch since being inserted into the starting lineup four games ago.

And while we’re on the topic of shooting, it was nice to see Brandon Williams get back on track. The freshman had 16 points and went 4 for 7 from 3. He was just 11 for 43 from 3 on the season entering the day.

Williams has scored in double figures in two straight games, after he failed to do so twice in a three-game span.

Ira Lee is playing himself out of the rotation

Lee is trending in the opposite direction. He played just five minutes against Alabama after playing eight against Utah Valley and 11 against UConn.

Lee continues to be a turnover machine, committing two against the Tide. He’s had twice as many turnovers (8) as points (4) in the last three games and only has four rebounds during that stretch, so it is hard to justify him getting minutes at this point.

And in the five minutes he did play Sunday, Arizona was outscored by 10 points.

Arizona has to beat Baylor now

Non-conference play is winding down and Arizona has beaten two quality teams — Iowa State and UConn — with three more games left.

The Wildcats have their last real opportunity to pad their résumé before league play on Saturday at home against Baylor, their last major-conference foe before they wrap up with Montana and UC Davis.

The thing is, if Arizona loses to Baylor it will be difficult to put together an appealing résumé come Selection Sunday. The Pac-12 is egregious this year and, to boot, Arizona only plays UCLA and Washington once, so the Wildcats will rarely be playing quality teams in conference play.

That means two things: Arizona won’t have many opportunities to pick up résumé-padding wins, but it will have plenty of chances to rack up bad losses — a tough path to an at-large bid.

Then again, maybe the Wildcats will win the Pac-12 Tournament and make the regular season moot. It is entirely possible.