The regular season is officially over for the Arizona Wildcats, and the last game was a great representation of the year as a whole: underwhelming and undermanned. Nevertheless, here are the three things I liked, and three I didn’t, from Saturday’s 72-64 home loss to the Arizona State Sun Devils.
The sophomore big man, who started at center, got the capacity crowd up and going with a couple early baskets to start the game. A couple hard finishes in the first 10 minutes were exactly what the Wildcats needed to fend off Luguentz Dort’s three-point barrages. The spin move that he put on his defender had McKale Center on its feet, and allowed Lee to huild confidence against ASU’s talented frontcourt. Unfortunately, Lee finished the game with the seven points he accumulated during the first couple of minutes, going 3 for 3 from the field while doing little down the stretch.
Early ASU foul trouble
Arizona was able to take advantage of the mediocre Pac-12 refereeing crew that was assigned and forced them to blow their whistles early and often. Dort’s quick two fouls after picking up a technical due to taunting Dylan Smith after a made three sent the talented freshman to the sidelines just as he was getting warmed up. The banged-up Arizona frontcourt was able to take advantage of the whistles as well, as Zylan Cheatham and De’Quon Lake picked up quick fouls that put them on the backfoot for the last 1- or so minutes of the first half. This allowed Chase Jeter to get going, even with his dinged-up knee, while Ryan Luther was able to get some separation on the perimeter to hit his first two threes.
Arizona fans’ blood pressure
In what was a perfect follow-up to the overtime thriller in Tempe, the two Arizona schools decided to take it down to the wire once again, keeping both fan bases on the edge of their seat for the collective 78 out of the 80 minutes. Luckily for Arizona fans, the two 5-star commits that are supposed to change the programs fortunes were in attendance. Nico Mannion and Josh Green took in the rivalry game, hoping that was the only loss to the Sun Devils they’ll ever experience at McKale.
Arizona’s first-half scoring drought
Right when Arizona felt like it could finally pull away from the Sun Devils, the Wildcats went as cold as you could possibly be as a team for almost nine first-half minutes. The streak was finally broke when Smith snatched a lazy Remy Martin pass out of the sky and almost botched the finish by having no idea whether he was going to lay it up or dunk it until about 80 percent of the move was finished. Luckily he decided to dunk it, breathing life into a lifeless offense.
The whistle-blowers wanted to be the center of attention today, and they got their wish. The referees dictated everything in the first half, sending both head coaches to early substitutions and awkward lineups much earlier than either expected. Bobby Hurley was *this* close to getting a technical in the first half, but his frustration was actually warranted, as much as it pains me to say it. The Wildcats were in the bonus with almost eight minutes left in the first half thanks to the referees, and it kept Arizona in the game as it got to keep the Sun Devils best players off the court for awkward periods of time.
The second half wasn’t much different, as both teams had three fouls apiece with 17:19 to go. The referees didn’t make an adjustment, and it cost the true potential of this game to never be achieved. Brandon Williams fouled out with just over 13 minutes left in the game, a perfect example of the referees quick whistles all afternoon. Justin Coleman also fouled out with five minutes to play, prompting Arizona to rely on Alex Barcello running the point in crunch time against its in-state rivals.
In a game where the Wildcats knocked down just 20 shots, they almost matched that dismal number with the amount of turnovers that they committed throughout the game. The Wildcats finished the game with 17 turnovers, compared to 12 assists. The fouls definitely threw off the Wildcats, but that is no excuse for the amount of times they gave the ball right back to the Sun Devils. Arizona was forcing shots all throughout the game, and relying on one-on-one opportunities late in the shot clock as a main source of offense during the second half.