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What we learned from Arizona’s win at Stanford

NCAA Basketball: Arizona at Stanford Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Wildcats handled the Stanford Cardinal 69-60 on Saturday to complete their second Pac-12 road sweep and improve to 18-7 overall and 8-4 in conference play.

Our full recap can be found here, Sean Miller’s postgame comments can be found here, and below are some additional takeaways:

Arizona won in a new way

Entering Saturday, Arizona was 0-4 in games with an offensive rating below 100. They are now 1-4.

The Wildcats averaged just .958 points per possession, but made up for their ongoing shooting struggles (more on that in a sec) by doing almost everything else well.

  • They made their free throws, swishing 26 of 31.
  • They controlled the glass, outrebounding Stanford 39-25.
  • They got the ball inside to Zeke Nnaji, getting him 10 shots plus 12 free throws, which he turned into 21 points because he is a freaking beast.
  • They played “excellent” defense, per Miller, holding Stanford to .909 points per possession.

Ironically, the one thing Arizona didn’t so well besides shoot is limit turnovers. Stanford has an elite defense with a lot of long, athletic players, but the Wildcats have typically been very careful with the ball this season. With 16 turnovers in 72 possessions Saturday, Arizona posted its second-worst turnover percentage of the season.

Seven players committed at least two, though admittedly there were a few charge calls that were pretty iffy.

Nevertheless, Arizona won a road game despite having one of its worst offensive nights of the season, which bodes well moving forward.

“The definition of a great season is, ‘are you still able to win when some of those things occur?’” Miller said. “There are times when those types of things have dismantled us and not allowed us to be the winner at the end. But tonight we really stayed with it, and not just one player but really everybody.”

Those free-throw shooting woes were nothing to worry about

Everything evens out in the end.

That was Miller’s response a couple weeks ago after Arizona struggled from the free-throw line against Washington State and USC, and Saturday was another example of the Wildcats progressing to the mean.

After hitting 16 of 18 against UCLA last Saturday, the Wildcats shot 26 for 31 against Stanford. In between, they shot a lousy 63.2 percent against Cal.

While you would like to see more consistency, the fact of the matter is these are college players and those hot and cold nights are to be expected. You just have to hope that, on average, you shoot a good percentage and make them on nights you really need to.

Saturday, that just so happened to be the case, because of course it was. Did you really think the Wildcats would lose to Stanford, a team they’ve now beaten 20 straight times?

Is this a shooting slump or just who this team is?

At what point does a team struggle for so long that it cannot be considered a slump, but rather that team’s identity? Because Arizona might be reaching that point when it comes to its 3-point shooting.

When Arizona shot 3 for 21 from 3 against Stanford, it marked the fifth time in the last six games that the Wildcats have shot under 30 percent from 3. Since the start of conference play, they have only made 32.5 percent of their 3s, the eighth-best mark in the Pac-12.

If you extrapolate that number for the entire season, Arizona is the 207th-best 3-point shooting team in the nation.

“I think the frustrating part for us is out of our 21 3s, we missed eight or 10 that I would say there’s nobody within eight feet of the shot,” Miller said.

“I think the other concern is just making sure that we keep working on our shooting and take good ones because we’re a much better shooting team than we’ve shown.”

Are you, though? It’s getting harder and harder to tell.

Nico Mannion hasn’t lived up to expectations

You won’t hear Miller criticize Mannion, but it is time to start telling it like it is: he just hasn’t been as good as advertised, especially as a shooter.

After going 2 for 10 against Stanford, including 0 for 4 from 3, the McDonald’s All-American is now shooting 39 percent from the field and 32 percent from 3 on the season.

Arizona made its game-sealing run Saturday with Mannion on the bench with foul trouble (shout out to Jemarl Baker Jr. for being a steadying force during that stretch). Mannion posted a -1 plus/minus in 27 minutes, one of only two players to be negative in that category (Christian Koloko being the other).

I’m not saying Arizona is a better team without Mannion—because they’re not—but his inefficiency has killed Arizona at times when you consider that he leads UA in field goal attempts and 3-point attempts. Those shooting struggles I talked about? He’s had a huge hand in them. Mannion is shooting 17 percent from 3 over his last five games and yet hasn’t been shy about letting them fly, hoisting about five per game.

As far as his NBA draft stock goes, the NBA drafts more on potential than production, so I’m not sure how much his pedestrian shooting actually matters in that regard. He is still going to leave after this season and be a first-round pick, and has the tools to have a long, successful career in the league.