Coaching the Arizona Wildcats for 10 seasons now, Sean Miller knows what to expect from the Oregon Ducks.
“They force turnovers. They mix in full-court pressure with their matchup zone. They play the game at a very, very high level in terms of effort,” he said. “And one of the key stats, no matter what year it is, is how many turnovers did your team commit? When we’ve turned the ball over against Oregon, it’s been a very difficult game.”
Thursday was one of those games.
Mystified by Oregon’s defense, Arizona was defeated 59-54 by the Ducks in McKale Center, UA’s first loss in Pac-12 play and fourth loss against Oregon in the last six tries.
The Wildcats (13-5, 4-1) shot 37 percent from the field and 6 for 22 from 3, committing 14 turnovers to just nine assists. While Miller might be familiar with the Ducks’ brand of basketball, his players evidently were not.
“The only guy that had an opportunity to play last year against Oregon was Brandon Randolph, and he probably didn’t play very much,” Miller said. “So playing against that style with a lot of first-timers, you kind of felt that out there. Maybe the next time we play we’ll be more ready.”
Randolph was held under double figures for the first time this season, notching just five points on nine shots. Chase Jeter (12) and Brandon Williams (10) were the lone Wildcats in double figures.
Even the Wildcats’ free-throw shooting, a strength all season, evaded them, going 10 for 15 from the stripe. Jeter and Justin Coleman both missed the front end of a one-and-one when Arizona was mounting a late comeback.
“We were out of sorts and we never could really get into a rhythm,” Miller said. “A couple of our guys had tough nights shooting. That’s part of it. But a tough night shooting has nothing to do with the 14 turnovers and five bad shots in the first half, and we probably took a couple more in the second half. Our shot selection, our ball movement and our turnovers were much better in the second half than the first half, but clearly our offense was a problem here tonight.”
Oregon (11-6, 2-2) was not much better offensively, shooting just 39 percent, but it only had nine turnovers and went 7 for 17 from 3.
Paul White had a game-high 16 points, including 11 in the second half. Victor Bailey Jr. (13) and Louis King (10) also scored in double figures. Kenny Wooten had five points, six rebounds and a block in his first appearance since breaking his jaw in late December.
“I mean you’re dealing with microscopic room for error when you play offense like we did, meaning on defense we had to be super, and we just didn’t have that in us, either,” Miller said.
The Wildcats trailed 31-23 at the half after shooting 30 percent and compiling more turnovers (9) than made field goals (8). Randolph went scoreless in the period, only taking one shot.
“That’s a lot,” Miller said of UA’s turnovers. “We followed that up with five in the second half, which is better, but 14 for the game, we will lose a lot of games with 14 turnovers. There is such a big difference between 10 turnovers and 14, especially against Oregon.”
King opened the second half with a 3 to put Oregon up by 11 and White added his second 3 to push the lead to 13 with 13:52 left. All the while, Arizona missed 11 of its first 12 shots to open the second half and went scoreless for a five-minute stretch.
Ira Lee finally ended that drought by cutting for a layup to make it 39-28. Oregon immediately called timeout to try to halt UA’s momentum, but Arizona made four of its next five shots, trimming the deficit to 45-40 after a thunderous slam by Lee, who also drew a foul and made the resulting free throw.
Jeter then split a pair of free throws and scored underneath to make it 47-43 with six minutes to play.
But Payton Pritchard answered with two free throws, King drew a charge on Ryan Luther on the other end, and White tipped in Bailey’s runner to extend Oregon’s lead back to eight with 4:13 left.
That’s when Coleman and Jeter missed the front end of a one-and-one on consecutive possessions, before Randolph drained a tough step-back 3 to cut the deficit to 52-48 with 2:06 left, giving Arizona a glimmer of hope.
Bailey and Williams then traded 3s before Pritchard rebounded his own miss over Jeter, allowing Oregon to bleed valuable seconds off the clock. Arizona got the ball back with 28 ticks left, but Williams missed a deep 3, ending the comeback bid.
Arizona’s offense was trending upward since the start of Pac-12 play, but the Wildcats averaged just 0.85 points per possession Thursday, their worst mark of the season.
“Steph Curry, I watched him last night. It’s like a video game. But if some other normal, good players shoot shots like that they’re not going in,” Miller said. “Some of it is we have to create better shots, but where I’m coming from is if one of our guys is forced to take that at the very end of the shot clock, that’s a function of poor offense. Most of our tough shots especially in the first half, which I thought set the tone for the game, came early in the clock.
“We’re not a high powered offensive team. We have to execute, we cannot take bad shots, we have to be able to move it, be patient and I wish we could have done a better job in that area.”
It was only Arizona’s fifth home loss since 2013-14 and its second this season, the other being to Baylor in which the Bears corralled 19 offensive rebounds.
Thursday’s game wasn’t all that different in Miller’s eyes.
“With their domination on the glass replaced by Oregon’s ability to disrupt us, turn us over,” he explained. “So we’ll learn from it, we have to bounce back. We play Oregon State here on Saturday and we haven’t lost too many games in this building. We have America’s No. 1 record ... so when you lose, it feels funny, but it’s up to us now to bounce back and see if we can be a better team.”