After six straight wins, the Arizona Wildcats finally dropped another game, this time to the Oregon Ducks by a score of 59-54.
It was an ugly game for both teams, but the Ducks were able to keep Arizona at arms length for most of the contest and finally close out a close game.
Here are some takeaways from the game.
It’s been easy to be critical of Sean Miller’s bench management this year, as six or seven players have spent almost the entire game on the court. The sudden transfer of Emmanuel Akot forced Miller’s hand here, but seeing him adapt and play the reserves more was nevertheless reassuring.
Ryan Luther filled Akot’s starting spot, playing 24 minutes. Ira Lee and Dylan Smith, the two reserves who have seen the court plenty in recent weeks, each were on the court for 17 minutes, and Alex Barcello got to spend 11 minutes in the game. Devonaire Doutrive still only got six minutes, but him even entering the game is a sign of progress.
This seems like a minor detail, but depth wins games late in the season, and Miller is finally starting to invest game experience on the bench.
It obviously helps that Arizona didn’t have to go up against Bol Bol, and frontcourt play remains a weakness despite Chase Jeter’s best efforts. Still, outrebounding a team like Oregon is a big deal, and usually would result in a victory.
Jeter really has been one of the best things about this team, and he’s pulled more than his share of the weight down low. He pulled down 10 boards Thursday, which was part of a double-double for him. Brandon Williams grabbed seven, and every player who saw the court minus Doutrive pulled in at least two rebounds. The team margin was 39-35 in favor of the ‘Cats, a huge improvement after being crushed on the boards 51-19 against Baylor last month.
Another thing that’s been lamented all season has been this team’s tendency to get into foul trouble, particularly Jeter. That did not happen Thursday, as no player went over three fouls, even after intentionally fouling in the final minute of the game.
Again, Jeter is the biggest news here, as three personal fouls is very low for him compared to other games this year. Ryan Luther, Brandon Randolph, Ira Lee also had three fouls, and while that’s not a stellar mark, it’s enough to ensure the best players are on the court in pivotal moments.
Arizona still committed 17 fouls to Oregon’s 15, but progress is progress, and 17 fouls is a number that can be worked with.
Man, what a gut punch. It was finally looking like Arizona was at least attempting to force the ball in the paint, and that the team wouldn’t live and die by the three. So much for that.
22 of the team’s 52 field goal attempts were from beyond the arc, and a paltry six found the bottom of the net, a 3-point percentage of 27.3. All three guards — Williams, Randolph, and Justin Coleman — went 1-4, while Ryan Luther went a horrifying 0-5.
If two more of these fall, Arizona probably wins. If three more go in, it’s almost a certain Wildcat win. This is a wasted performance in a lot of problem areas, thanks to the cold shooting, and it cost Arizona a win it might desperately need.
I really don’t think I can blame Jeter for the team’s heavy leaning towards the backcourt in this season. He’s essentially on an island in the paint, and while he’s very talented and it’s not like he’s drastically undersized, sometimes having one big man listed at 6’10” just simply won’t go your way.
Oregon’s forwards Paul White and Louis King didn’t necessarily have a field day down low, but they also got the ball plenty of times. The pair combined for 26 points and 14 rebounds, making up a sizable part of Oregon’s stats in both categories. White in particular was effective, going 7-10 from the field including two clutch 3s, all on top of his five boards.
Jeter is playing well, but sometimes when you’re a very small team, talent simply leaves the equation. It’s the closest thing this team has to a fatal flaw, and it’s why players like Oregon State’s Kylor Kelley and UCLA’s Moses Brown should terrify Arizona fans.
Neither team looked like their typical upper-tier-of-the-conference selves on Thursday, and while any loss is crushing, a five-point loss due to cold shooting against a conference rival at home hurts badly.
An Arizona win would have pushed the Wildcats to 5-0 in conference entering a Saturday showdown with an underrated Oregon State team. It would have also given UA seven straight wins, and their first against a truly good opponent in that stretch. It was within reach, as plenty of Arizona’s typical weaknesses were improved upon.
Instead, Arizona is 4-1 facing a scary Oregon State squad, and plenty of tough games loom on the schedule.