After yet another second-half comeback attempt ultimately fell just short, the No. 16 Arizona Wildcats (10-3) were defeated by St. John’s (11-2) 70-67 Saturday night in San Francisco.
Playing in the newly constructed Chase Center — the home of the Golden State Warriors — the Cats lost their last non-conference match-up of the season when Nico Mannion’s floater in the final seconds didn’t fall to seal the UA’s third loss in their last four contests.
Arizona is now just 2-3 against major-conference opponents this season, the two wins coming against Illinois and Wake Forrest.
The Wildcats didn’t exactly light it up on offense against St. John’s— they shot 40% from the field as a team and just 19% from three—but UA’s freshmen trio of Mannion, Zeke Nnaji, and Josh Green were certainly the biggest bright spot on that side of the floor for Arizona.
Those three combined to score 54 of the Wildcats’ 67 points.
Once again, Nnaji led the way, finishing with a double-double of 24 points on 8-10 shooting and 12 rebounds, while Mannion ended the game with 19 points and Green with 11.
It is worth pointing out that Mannion and Green shot a combined 8-22 (36%) from the field and finished with seven turnovers, but on a night where the rest of the team (outside of the freshmen trio) shot a combined 3-16 (18.75%) from the field, the play of the freshmen was one of the only real positives for Arizona offensively.
Down the stretch in the second half the Wildcats continuously earned trips to the free throw line which well and truly got them back in the contest.
Arizona converted 17-19 FTs in the second half, including a long stretch under the 10-minute mark in which they scored 11 straight points at the stripe.
The Cats were 26-32 (81%) on the game, and while afterwards head coach Sean Miller wasn’t happy with his team’s shot selection (again), he will have been pleased when he saw the numbers from his team’s free throw shooting in this one.
Arizona actually played some zone against St. John’s (yes, you read that correctly) and despite taking the L, they held their opponents to just 35% shooting from the field and 15% from three.
Eight blocks further highlighted a solid defensive effort from Arizona on Saturday night.
This loss was more about poor shot selection, lack of rebounding and too many turnovers than anything defensively.
First Half Turnovers
Arizona turned the ball over 10 times in the first half on Saturday night (which lead to 14 points for St. John’s), and it’s no surprise that the Wildcats were down by a big margin like 14 at halftime because of it.
They corrected things in the second half (only turning it over three times), but still, it was a disappointing team effort taking care of the ball. Being outrebounded in the game 40-35 added to that disappointment.
St. John’s deserves credit for playing a tough brand of basketball, but the fact of the matter is that Arizona could have won the game had they not put themselves in such a deep hole with their turnovers in the in the first half.
Until the Wildcats prove they can actually shoot the ball against better teams (particularly from three), they just can’t afford to turn the ball over like they did on Saturday.
Smith and Lee
Two of the Wildcats’ most experienced players — Dylan Smith and Ira Lee — didn’t feature at all in the second half against the Johnnies, and while Arizona may have gotten back into the game regardless, there’s no way that playing basically a six-man rotation for the entire second half (Christian Koloko got six minutes of PT) helped the UA’s cause against the Red Storm.
In 13 minutes of action, Smith went 0-1 with 1 rebound, 2 personal fouls and 4 turnovers, while Lee didn’t take a shot in his six minutes and pulled down 3 boards.
To be at there best going forward, the Cats will need more from those two — and more from their bench in general, which scored just eight points on Saturday night.
In comparison, St. John’s got 27 points from their bench guys.
I don’t want to be too critical of Mannion, who I still have a bunch of faith in heading into Pac-12 play, but when someone on your team is playing the way Zeke was on Saturday night, that guy absolutely has to get a touch on the final possession of a one point game.
Yes, Nico got off a shot that was similar to the game winner he put in against Pepperdine, but he really should have passed the ball to Nnaji as the forward crashed towards the paint following the pair’s high-screen action.
To their credit, St. John’s did handle the situation well defensively, but either way Arizona fans will be wishing Nnaji had gotten the ball in his hands (at least a touch of it anyways) on that final play.