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3 up, 3 down in Arizona’s loss to Alabama

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Lessons learned from the Wildcats’ third loss

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

The Arizona Wildcats (7-3) suffered a tough road loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide (6-3) on Sunday afternoon. It’s the Wildcats’ third loss in the non-conference schedule, and could be a point of contention on Selection Sunday.

Our full recap can be found here, and here’s three up and three down from the defeat.

3 Up

Comeback

It’s never a good thing to go down by 19 in the first half. If you can bounce back from that, however, and make a close game in the entire second half, that’s a sign of strong effort and solid talent.

Going into a road matchup, it’s always important to get a good start. The start of the game was solid, but over an eight -minute span in the middle of the first half, Arizona managed a paltry two points. After 14 minutes, the score was a seemingly insurmountable 33-14 Alabama lead.

But the final 26 minutes of the game showed the Wildcats will to fight. The deficit was cut to a doable nine points at the half and the majority of the second half was spent with a two-possession score.

Arizona still had two scoring droughts in the second half, but the fact that they were still able to win the game until the final seconds despite those scoring droughts shows that, when the chips are down, this edition of the team will fight for a win.

Chase Jeter

The matchup between Jeter and Alabama big man Donta Hall was probably the most important factor of this game. They essentially fought to a draw, both showing off their talent, and the two teams also ended up essentially at a draw.

Jeter has been perhaps the best surprise of the season for UA, dominating the paint and keeping the Wildcats from completely relying on the three. Hall has played a similar role for four years in Tuscaloosa, and the two both played phenomenally on Sunday. J

Jeter had a career-high 19 points on 9 of 16 shooting. Jeter was also the team leader in rebounds, grabbing nine boards, with four of them being critical offensive rebounds. Those offensive rebounds were vital in crawling back into the game for Arizona, and Jeter’s ability to consistently get buckets was just as important.

Three Point Shooting

Arizona’s 3-point shooting wasn’t elite in this game, and only a couple of extra makes could’ve made the difference. Nevertheless, the shooting from the Wildcats’ guards was another silver lining.

All year, Brandon Williams and Brandon Randolph have dominated UA’s production from beyond the arc. That trend continued in Alabama, with Randolph going 3-9 from outside and Williams shooting a phenomenal 4-7 for three. Those two starring from three wasn’t surprising, but the shooting of Emmanuel Akot was a nice surprise.

Akot went 2-4 from deep, and those six extra points kept Arizona in the game despite Akot’s otherwise mediocre performance.

3 Down

Fouls

Against UConn, I mentioned that Chase Jeter fouling out of the game could’ve been a disaster if not for Ryan Luther. While Jeter managed to stay in the game this weekend, Arizona still partially lost this game due to fouls.

When you’re trailing late in the game, intentional fouls are going to inflate your foul count quite a bit. Even adjusting for that, Arizona deeply struggled. The Wildcats shot just nine foul shots all game, making only six. Compare that to Alabama, which shot 28 of them. T

he Tide were only able to convert 16 of them, and if they’d had a better game from the foul line the score would’ve never been in question. Arizona’s 19 personal fouls also dwarfed Alabama’s 14, and made the Wildcats play tight with the clock ticking away.

Bench Play

I also mentioned after the UConn game that the lack of minutes from the bench was disconcerting. Against Alabama, the bench had even less to do as the starters dragged the team back to striking distance.

It’s hard to keep from getting tired when you’re in the game for almost every possession. Every starter but Emmanuel Akot logged over 30 minutes on Sunday, with Justin Coleman playing for 35. Akot and sixth man Dylan Smith shared roughly equal playing time, but other than those six only Ryan Luther logged more than five minutes. Arizona’s bench accounted for 49 of the team’s 200 minutes, with Luther and Smith accounting for 42 of them. It’s hard to see a team relying on so few players going far in March, and the issue of depth could be Arizona’s true Achilles heel.

Potentially Bad Loss

Even in December, it’s important to think about how every game will affect your NCAA Tournament resume come March. For the ‘Cats, there’s a strong chance this game will leave a serious scar.

Alabama came into the year with moderate expectations, but has struggled pretty hard this year, already losing to Northeastern, Georgia State, and UCF.

With the SEC becoming one of the deeper conferences in basketball over the last couple of years, there are still plenty of losses on the table for ‘Bama, namely six games against ranked Tennessee, Kentucky, Auburn, and Tennessee teams.

It’s highly possible Alabama doesn’t even sniff the NCAA Tournament, and a loss to a non-tournament from a power conference could look pretty bad for Arizona. The Tide might turn their season around and indirectly help Arizona, but for now this is easily the worst loss of the year for this edition of Arizona basketball.

The Wildcats return to action this Saturday, facing Baylor in McKale Center at 9:00 p.m. MT, a game that suddenly has the utmost importance.