With its first true road game of the season set for a pre-noon tip, the Arizona Wildcats didn’t have time to go through a morning shootaround before taking on the Baylor Bears.
Arizona shot 26.9 percent, the worst percentage of the Sean Miller era, and made only 2 of 18 3-pointers, contributing to an early hole it could never climb out of in losing 63-58 Saturday to 18th-ranked Baylor in Waco, Texas.
The 12th-ranked Wildcats (9-1) trailed by double digits less than 10 minutes into the game, making Miller’s warning earlier in the week that Baylor (7-1) would “blow us out of the arena” if his team wasn’t ready. The deficit stayed that way the rest of the first half, with Arizona not getting closer than six until the final two minutes.
Amazingly, the Wildcats managed to make it a one-possession game despite missing 14 straight shots in the second half, going nearly 10 minutes without a field goal. Nico Mannion’s three-pointer, combined with two Zeke Nnaji free throws, got Arizona within 59-56 with 2:12 left, and Mannion’s floater with 11.8 seconds to go cut the deficit to 60-58.
After Baylor’s MaCio Teague made one of two free throws on the other end Josh Green had an open look to tie it, but his three-pointer barely hit the backboard and the Bears hit two free throws after grabbing the rebound.
The overall performance wasn’t that surprising considering Arizona hit the road unsure how effective Green and Mannion would be. Neither had practiced prior to Thursday, Green because of strep throat and Mannion due to lower back soreness, and the pair combined to go 6 of 23 from the field and 1 of 8 from three.
Mannion played most of the second half with a limp, suffering some sort of leg injury after getting called for a charge with 17:02 left and appearing to re-aggravate it on numerous occasions, finishing with 15 points that included an 8-of-8 effort at the foul line.
With those two key ball handlers far from 100 percent, Arizona turned it over 16 times including 11 in the first half.
Down 35-24 at halftime, the Wildcats scored on two of its first three possessions to get within seven. Baylor went scoreless for the first 4:04, missing 10 straight shots including its last five in the first half, but the Wildcats had three straight empty possessions that included a pair of missed layups.
Arizona got as close a 42-36 with 12:09 left on a steal and layup by Green, but Baylor’s Davion Mitchell hit a three on the other end and then Freddie Gillespie scored inside after Green’s running floater rimmed out.
What followed was a stretch of more than six minutes where neither team made a field goal, but not for a lack of trying. Baylor missed nine consecutive shots before Jared Butler hit a layup with 4:34 left, giving the Bears a 53-42 lead, while Arizona missed 14 in a row yet found itself down only 55-49 after Mannion hit three free throws with 2:51 left.
Jemarl Baker Jr.’s three with 2:12 left ended the 10-minute field goal drought but Arizona would three of its last four shots after that.
The cold shooting started early, as Arizona began 3 of 13 from the field, missing its first six 3s. The Wildcats also turned it over seven times in the first 10 minutes, allowing Baylor to go on a 15-0 run to lead 22-8 with 9:26 left.
The Wildcats trailed 32-14 before going on a 7-0 run, the last basket a layup by Chase Jeter on a behind-the-back pass from Christian Koloko with 2:56 left. But Baylor’s Butler converted a three-point play on the other end just 22 seconds later and Arizona couldn’t get closer than the 11-point halftime deficit.
Arizona returns home Wednesday to face Nebraska-Omaha, a warm-up before hosting Gonzaga next Saturday at McKale Center.