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3 up, 3 down in Arizona’s frustrating loss to UCLA

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arizona-wildcats-ucla-bruins-recap-reaction-analysis-positive-negative-pac-12-basketball Jacob Snow-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 23 Arizona Wildcats lost 65-52 to the UCLA Bruins on Saturday night at the McKale Center, falling to 16-7 overall and 6-4 in the Pac-12.

It was a historically bad night for the Cats on offense, as they shot 25.4 percent from the field — the program’s worst shooting percentage at McKale in the 47-year history of the building.

While our full recap of Saturday’s game can be found here, and a breakdown of what Sean Miller said afterwards here, below is a further analysis of the Wildcats’ ugly loss to the Bruins.

Up

Free throw shooting

To be blunt, there weren’t many positives to take from the Wildcats’ loss to UCLA.

Arizona was dominated in pretty much every aspect — particularly in the second half — and much like the USC game it played terribly on offense for large stretches of the night.

The Wildcats were out shot by UCLA both overall (51% - 25%) and from three (53% - 26%) and they once again went multiple eight-minute stretches without scoring a field goal.

It was a truly awful offensive outing and there is no question that the UA deserved to lose — however, if there was one thing that Arizona did do well, it was this: its free throw shooting.

The Wildcats made 16 of their 18 foul shots (88%) and when they once again went cold in the second half, the free throw line is how they kept the game at least somewhat close.

The play of Zeke Nnaji was representative of the Cats’ offensive performance: the freshman from Minnesota struggled from the field (he was 2 for 8), but went 10 for 10 from the line to finish with a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds.

Incredibly, if Arizona’s free throw shooting hadn’t been as effective as it was, this game would have somehow been even worse.

Turnovers

Again, there weren’t many positives, so I may be reaching a bit here, but the Wildcats’ lack of turnovers continues to be something this team can hang its hat on.

Despite committing seven in the first half, Arizona turned it over just nine times on Saturday — compared to 18 from the Bruins — and even after this embarrassing loss, the UA still sits at 10th in in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.4-to-1) and tied for 23rd in the country in fewest turnovers committed (260).

It’s also worth noting that Jemarl Baker Jr. continued his streak of games without a turnover, and the transfer from Kentucky has now remarkably gone almost seven full games without giving the ball away — a total of 143 minutes played.

Even after a loss as ugly as this one was, stats like those are impressive.

Small lineup

After the Bruins built a significant lead to start the second half, Arizona went to a smaller lineup midway through the final period and went on a 7-0 run to get the deficit to just 45-44 with 9:47 left in the contest.

UCLA responded with a 14-0 run of its own to put the game away, but that smaller lineup of Nico Mannion, Josh Green, Dylan Smith, Baker and Nnaji was at least somewhat effective.

Afterwards Miller was happy with how that group played.

“We played small, and really super small—four guards and Zeke,” he said of when the Wildcats went on that 7-0 run. “I think that lineup for us, it can get us back in the game, it can change the game, it can kind of give us a different scheme.”

Down

Offense...?

Man, is Arizona struggling on offense right now.

After experiencing a rough night Thursday against USC, Arizona was even worse against UCLA.

Somehow the Wildcats made just 15 field goals the entire game, going 15 of 59 from the field, 6 for 23 from 3 and a ridiculous 6 of 20 on layups. The second half was even worse — Arizona shot just 20% and was 0-12 from 3.

They struggled to simply run an offense and there were no standout performers on that end. Nnaji finished with a team-high 14 points but even he missed 6 of 8 shots.

Mannion meanwhile really had an off night, finishing with 5 points on 2-14/1-5 shooting, while Green went 3-11/1-3 to finish with 11 points and Baker had nine — but after making his first three 3s missed his final five shots.

The Wildcats historically bad 25.4% field goal percentage is indicative of just how serious their offensive struggles are right now.

Toughness and physicality

The Bruins simply bullied Arizona on Saturday night, and after the game, Miller said that UCLA’s physicality was the biggest difference between the two teams.

“It’s a man’s game,” he said. “You have to be physical, you have to go through contact, you can’t cry. Sometimes you have to make a clever pass because they’re physical and walling up, and their toughness and physicality wore on all of us. It wore on our team, wore on our drives, wore on our second shots. Early in the game you could see guys are like begging for the foul and falling down. And you have to know going into the game that they’re playing that type of game, and you have to be able to adjust but that that really bothered us.”

While this game doesn’t mean that the Wildcats can’t pull it together and go on a run to end the season, there is no doubt that this loss showed that this Arizona team still has a lot of growing up to do — both physically and mentally.

Dylan Smith

There were a number of Wildcats who had poor games on Saturday night, but boy did Smith struggle against the Bruins.

The mercurial senior went 0 for 7 from the field and 0 for 4 from three in his 22 minutes of action against UCLA.

He’s incredibly he’s now missed 17 3s in a row — all while shooting a collective 14.8% from the field in his past four games — and he struggled to make any type of positive impact on Saturday night.

After the game his head coach had this to say of his performance.

“I think Dylan is obviously struggling with his shot,” Miller said. “But, Dylan is 6-5 and he’s that one wing player that can really help us defensively. Our subs are much smaller, so it’s tough just to go without him because we trust him on defense and he’s also had some really good moments on offense this season. Hopefully he can get his confidence back.”

Smith certainly wasn’t the only Arizona player who didn’t perform against UCLA, and I’m normally a huge defender of him, but there’s simply no doing that after the performance he put in.

The UA has to get some semblance of consistency on offense from him here on out.