Splitting on the road in conference play is usually a positive thing. This past weekend was an example of when it’s not.
A thrilling last-second win at Oregon State on Thursday was followed by the ugliest loss in a season full of them for the Arizona Wildcats. They didn’t just lose to Oregon on Saturday, they were obliterated, the 73-47 setback snapping a three-game win streak and sapping all the good feelings that players, coaches and fans had allowed themselves to start having.
Arizona entered Saturday with a realistic chance to finish in the top four in the Pac-12 standings, thus earning a first-round bye at the conference tournament in two weeks. Not anymore.
And if how Arizona played in that last game, particularly in the second half, is any indication of how it will play in Las Vegas, then surviving beyond Wednesday’s first round might be wishful thinking.
Here’s what we learned about Arizona from the final road trip of the 2018-19 season, which happened to also be the only one that wasn’t a sweep in one direction or the other.
Starting games with fewer than nine pain-free contributors equals disaster
Chase Jeter may break out in a cold sweat if he ever sees someone in an Oregon State basketball jersey. After taking a hard fall against the Beavers at home in January, causing him to miss the rest of that game and the next two, Jeter tweaked his left knee in the second half at OSU and had to come out.
Arizona managed to win both of those games despite Jeter, arguably its most important all-around player, logging just six points and seven rebounds in 26 combined minutes. It’s what has happened in the games after he’s gotten hurt that has been glaring.
Jeter played just six minutes off the bench against Oregon, looking like a shell of himself even more than he did in his return from the back injury. His absence was most felt on offense, as Arizona had another game where it was flat-out unable to score in the paint as evidenced by a 6-of-17 performance on layups.
This was the ninth time in the past 11 games Arizona has begun a game without at least nine fully healthy players, either not having Jeter or Brandon Williams at close to 100 percent. The Wildcats are 1-8 in those games, the only win coming against Cal, and four of those losses have been by at least 14 points.
This is Arizona’s worst-shooting team of the Pac-10/12 era
Randolph made 7 of 8 shots against Oregon State, looking very much like the guy who scored in double figures in Arizona’s first 17 games instead of the one who shot under 40 percent in 13 of the 14 games at one point?
Was it the result of a burst of confidence that could be attributed to having Williams—and his ability to include others—back? Maybe it was Randolph’s new hairstyle? Or, perhaps, just a statistical anomaly?
Depending on what happens against ASU next week, the answer may just be C, which means Arizona is likely to end the season with its leading scorer shooting under 40 percent from the field. The last time that happened: 2002-03, when Jason Gardner averaged a team-best 14.8 points per game on 39.2 percent shooting.
If this was only a Randolph problem, adjustments could be made. But it’s not, it’s a team-wide one.
Arizona is shooting 42.8 percent for the season, which stands to be its worst rate since 1971-72, when it went 6-20 as a member of the Western Athletic Conference. Of the six Wildcats who attempt more than five shots per game, only Chase Jeter (58.6 percent) and Ryan Luther (43.3) are shooting at least 40 percent.
There’s still plenty to play for
While Arizona’s Pac-12 tournament outlook took a major hit with the Oregon loss, the season isn’t over. Considering how bad the league has been, top to bottom, if ever there was a time a team could win four games in four days to claim the automatic bid it’s this season.
(Seriously, when first-place Washington clinches the regular-season title and loses to previously winless Cal on the same night, there are no certainties)
Arizona is in 10th place right now but could still move up to as high as sixth depending a handful of other results. But none of that matters if the Wildcats don’t avenge their overtime loss to the Sun Devils on Senior Day.
Sadly, the crowd for that game could have quite a bit of maroon-and-gold. It’s Spring Break in Tucson and the Zona Zoo figures to be sparsely populated, allowing ASU fans to infiltrate McKale Center.
Looking ahead to Vegas, whatever seed Arizona gets it should still have a strong fan contingent—assuming they still make the trip—and maybe having to play an extra game could be just the thing this team needs to get rolling. There won’t be any time for overthinking or second-guessing, just keep winning.