The Arizona Wildcats’ historic shooting woes against the UCLA Bruins were not a one-off, rather the culmination of an offense that has been sputtering for a while.
In the last five games, the Wildcats are shooting 38 percent from the field and 28 percent from 3. They have only shot above 41 percent as a team in one those games—the win vs. USC, when they shot 46 percent.
But that number is kind of deceiving because the Wildcats were awful down the stretch, going the final eight minutes without a made field goal, missing six straight shots and eight of their last nine.
Since the 12:55 mark of that game, when Arizona held a 63-43 lead, things have gotten even worse. In their last 47 minutes of basketball, the Wildcats have been outscored 102-75 and are just 18 for 71 (25.3 percent) from the field, shooting 30 percent in the first half against UCLA and then 20 percent in the second half, resulting in UA’s worst shooting performance ever in McKale Center.
In its last three halves of basketball, Arizona is 7 for 31 from 3. So just go inside, right? Nope. The craziest stat, still, is that Arizona went 6 for 20 on layups against UCLA, with only one of those shots being blocked.
Zeke Nnaji, who is shooting over 60 percent on the season, went just 2 for 8.
“It was a physical night...we just weren’t ready for it,” Sean Miller put it succinctly.
While part of Arizona’s struggles can be attributed to the fact they missed makable shots, the Bruins did show the formula for stymieing this UA team—keep them in the halfcourt.
Saturday’s game was played at the slowest pace of any Arizona game this season, per KenPom, which has generally meant bad things for the Wildcats. They are 1-3 in the four slowest-paced games this season, losing to UCLA, Oregon and Oregon State, while beating Colorado.
Keep in mind that UCLA, Oregon State, and Oregon are pretty bad defensively. They rank 157th, 175th and 83rd in the country, respectively, in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metrics. But force Arizona to execute in the halfcourt, and suddenly what is (still) rated as a top-20 offense in the country bogs down significantly.
The reason for that? It’s hard to pinpoint it exactly. A number of factors could explain it such as uncreative sets, a roster that has eight newcomers, a lack of primary shot creators, very streaky shooters, and shot selection.
Nico Mannion comes to mind. He leads the Wildcats in field goal attempts (11.3) and 3-point attempts (5.0) per game, but is only converting 40 and 34 percent, respectively. Josh Green, second on the team in field-goal attempts, is shooting just 41 percent from the field. And, yes, Dylan Smith being 1 for his last 18 from 3 certainly doesn’t help, either.
But whatever the cause for Arizona’s offensive despair, the problem is getting worse and time is running out to fix it.