The Arizona Wildcats appeared to be on their way to a blowout of the Arizona State Sun Devils and their first road win of the season until a second-half collapse saw them cough up leads of 22 and 19 points en rout to a 66-65 loss in Tempe.
Arizona, now unranked, has to go back on the road this week to Washington. But before we get there, our staff members shared their takeaways from the loss to ASU.
Brian J. Pedersen
Arizona’s three Pac-12 wins are by an average of 21.7 points while five of its six overall losses are by an average of 2.8. Even people without my obsession with math and numbers can tell that’s a problem, and it’s one that’s going to continue until the Wildcats learn how to close out games.
While earlier the issue was falling behind and not having enough to make it all the way back, lately it’s become a matter of being unable to close things out and hold onto a lead, which is frankly a lot more troubling than some slow starts or bad first halves.
My takeaway from Saturday’s loss to ASU was equal parts meh and blech.
On the one hand, this loss — while upsetting — doesn’t really do much to change Arizona’s season. They are still ranked very high in NET and are very much on track to make the NCAA Tournament. Depending on how the rest of the season goes, it’s difficult to imagine this loss being the one that drops them more than maybe a seed or so when the bracket is set.
On the other hand, this was yet another road game where Arizona showed flashes of being dominant but was not able to sustain nor finish when things got tight. Blame youth, blame the refs, blame coaching; really, blame whatever and whoever you want. As talented as the Wildcats are, for some reason they just can’t get the key stop or big bucket when they desperately need one.
That’s concerning, but you could also make a case that success in one-possession games is somewhat luck of the draw. One roll, one bounce, one call (or no call) could swing the outcome and those are not necessarily predictable. Who knows, maybe Arizona’s “luck” in such situations will soon turn.
So going forward, all of Arizona’s goals are still attainable. But until they show an ability to win away from the McKale Center and/or make winning plays in a close game, it would be unwise to expect the Cats to reach them.
Up 34 to 13 in the first half, I fired off a tweet which read, “Arizona is throat stomping ASU. This isn’t pretty. At all.”
Well, the tweet was true. Arizona was throttling ASU’s offense and scoring at will — the first 15 minutes almost a duplicate of the first meeting in McKale between the two teams. And then it went downhill from there. Arizona did not close the half strong, allowing ASU to cut was once a 22 point lead, down to 13. That trend of poor play continued into the second half.
Realistically, I figured this would be a close game, which most of us forecasted in our game predictions. However, it is simply inexcusable to be up 22 and blow the game, especially against an inferior opponent. ASU is an average team, there’s no way to get around that. They probably will not be making the NCAA Tournament. Losses like this are so immensely frustrating, to both fans, players, and coaches alike.
Only if Arizona at some point could find some semblance of consistent play, I would be much higher on this squad’s chances come March. If the Cats can sweep the Washington schools, this loss stings much less.
We’ll see how the team responds to this latest setback.
This team doesn’t handle adversity well. Once Nico Mannion picked up his second foul, everything fell apart. And as the Sun Devils started mounting a run, the Wildcats got extremely tense on offense, especially in the halfcourt. Seeing Josh Green, who went 0 for 8, hesitate to take an open 3 was a bad sign. But these are the downsides of having a team with eight newcomers and three freshman starters. They have not been through battles like this before, unlike ASU which leaned on veterans like Remy Martin and Rob Edwards.
It was also disappointing to see seniors like Stone Gettings and Dylan Smith come up empty in big situations. Gettings missed an open 3 in the final minute that would have pushed UA’s lead to four. Smith missed two critical free throws down the stretch. Not plays you expect from veterans but it’s happened too often this season. Smith was the one who clanked the front end of the one-and-one at Oregon, spurring the Ducks’ comeback.
But at least they got a chance to play unlike Max Hazzard, who’s second-half benching was questionable with the Wildcats struggling for offense. It was supposed to be a learning lesson for Hazzard, who took a shot with eight seconds left in the first half instead of bleeding the clock, but hopefully Sean Miller learned that benching a guy who had been red-hot can lead to consequences, which in this case were the second-half shooting struggles.
And, yeah, Zeke Nnaji not getting his first touch of the second half until there were 10 minutes left is not acceptable either.
Until Arizona shows it can execute and be smart when things get tough on the road, it is hard to take this team seriously.