Arizona got outworked in the first half, but its defense clamped down in the second half
The game had to be stopped multiple times because there was blood on the court. It’s not clear whose it was, but it probably belonged to a Baylor player.
Because anytime there was a loose ball in this game, you could usually count on the Bears diving to the floor, scraping their knees, to corral it. That was especially true in the first half when Baylor led by 11 heading into the locker room. No UA player had more than three rebounds in that period.
But whatever Miller’s halftime message was, the Wildcats played with much more grit in the second half, going even on the boards (20-20) and outscoring the Bears 34-28.
Arizona’s defense locked up, denying the kind of open 3s the Bears were feasting on in the first half. Baylor shot 22 percent in the second half and 1 for 11 from 3, after drilling five triples in the first half.
If you are looking for something to build on in this game, it’s that Arizona was able to take a top-20 team to the wire on a day its offense had historic struggles. (More on that in a sec.)
“Our defense was as good as it’s been,” Miller said. “We played against three really terrific guards. The fact is, in the second half, I thought, you look at their stats in the second half, I mean, they were 6 for 27 from the field, 1 for 11 from three. Our defense was certainly good enough. We also forced 16 turnovers, they are a team that doesn’t turn the ball over. We made some real strides in that area.”
Shooting failed Wildcats when they needed it most
Arizona’s 26.9 field goal percentage was its worst mark ever under Miller.
The Wildcats arrived in Waco as the fourth-best 3-point shooting team in the country, but missed 16 of 18 of their triples, going 1 for 10 and 1 for 8 in the first and second half, respectively.
Arizona could not get much dribble penetration against Baylor’s long, athletic defenders and looked frantic anytime Baylor double-teamed on the block. (Zeke Nnaji had four turnovers.)
There just weren’t many good looks for the Wildcats, and when they did get them, they usually clanked off the rim or rattled in and out. Josh Green had a relatively clean look in the final seconds that would have tied the game, but his 3 caromed off the glass.
Aside from its defense, the only reason Arizona stayed in the game is because it shot 24 second-half free throws and made 21 of them.
You wonder how having Stone Gettings and his ability to space the floor would have helped Arizona in this one.
“The problem with us right now ... is when we’re in transition and the ball is going in, that’s when we’re at our best. We want to play with tempo. But no matter what anybody thinks when you play against good teams on the road, and the college basketball season grows, the early shots aren’t going to be as plentiful nor are they going to be as open,” Miller said. “Too many times when you take quick, ill-advised shots you almost put that in a category of a turnover. You have X number of those, plus 15 turnovers, and then you don’t have maybe your typical night when you get a couple good ones. Next thing you know you end up with 58 points.”
Arizona’s lack of secondary creators showed
Arizona only had seven assists and Nico Mannion was responsible for five of them. The other two? They belonged to Christian Koloko.
On a day when Mannion was clearly hobbled by back and ankle injuries, the Wildcats really could have used another playmaker to step up and carry the offensive load. Jemarl Baker Jr. has been that guy this season, but he was pretty much invisible in this game until he hit a late 3 with 2:12 left to make it a one-possession game.
Arizona having a dearth of shot creators was a concern when Brandon Williams was ruled out for the season, and this game showed that it could still be a significant problem when the Wildcats have to face stingier defenses.
And, in fairness, maybe someone like Green, who had eight points on nine shots, would have been more assertive had he not been dealing with strep throat that forced him to miss practice this week.
“We had a number of guys not practice throughout the week and you never can ever, ever feel good about that,” Miller said. “And there’s just too many parts to our game today that reflected a choppy week of practice when you consider who played in the game and who practiced, and that’s something we also have to address.”
Christian Koloko was a bright spot
If there was another bright spot in this game, it was the play of freshman Christian Koloko, who stuffed the stat sheet with three points, two assists and two blocks in 12 minutes. Arizona outscored the Bears by five when the 7-footer was on the court.
He used his length effectively to deter and alter shots and, unlike Arizona’s other bigs, actually stayed composed when the Bears sent a double team his way.
Check out this slick behind-the-back pass he threw to Chase Jeter for a layup:
CHRISTIAN KOLOKO BEHIND THE BACK PASS pic.twitter.com/azOdmna8QC— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) December 7, 2019
It is no secret that Arizona views Koloko as a long-term project, but he has shown he can help this year’s squad as well.
“(It) was one of the best passes that I’ve seen a big man have,” Miller said. “It was a lot of poise on his end. He played confident, did his job. One of the two blocks was when they had their point guard on him, the point guard had the ball, Christian was matched up on him and it’s (a) tough feat for him to be in that situation. I think he ended up blocking a three-point shot. No doubt it was good to get Christian in the game. I thought he really did a nice job for our team for sure.”
This wasn’t a true road test
This game will go down in the history books as a road game for the Wildcats, but it felt like one of those early-season tournaments. Ferrell Center was mostly empty, and many of the fans in attendance were red-clad Wildcat fans.
Baylor fans were either at the Big 12 Championship in nearby Arlington, or watching it from their couches at home. They certainly weren’t cheering on their basketball team.
ESPNU’s production was awful
This has to be addressed.
For long parts of the first half, the score graphic was not on the screen. That was nothing compared to what happened later in the game when the broadcast cut to the start of Boston College-Notre Dame even though it was a three-point contest in Waco with 1:24 left.
By the time ESPNU flipped back to Arizona-Baylor, there were 35.4 seconds left. Those are some pretty critical moments that fans did not get to see and an inexcusable gaffe by ESPN’s production crew.
There was also this: