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Fan’s perspective: Observations from Arizona’s win over Washington State

arizona-wildcats-college-basketball-grand-canyon-sam-houston-grambling-schedule-update-2020 Jacob Snow-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan was kind enough to notice that I typically clog the comment sections with my thoughts after games (and before games… and on the days in between games). He therefore offered for me to generate some posts for the site. So, I’ll be periodically providing some content from the “fan’s perspective.”

The authors here on the site already do a great job providing content, so I’ll do my best highlight topics not necessarily covered in Brian’s game recap and Ryan’s column from Arizona’s win over Washington State.

In short, this is a nearly impossible game to analyze as a whole, as fans witnessed two entirely different teams wearing Arizona uniforms in the first versus the second half.

The first half saw nearly every bad tendency on display from this team all year, from dicey shot selection, tentative play in attacking the zone, mind-numbing turnovers, and just a general lack of urgency and confidence. The Cats had a glaring frontcourt advantage, and yet somehow allowed Wazzu’s zone to limit them to 29 first-half points. Despite having 14 of those first-half points, Zeke Nnaji blew several easy point-blank shots and also had four turnovers, with the nadir coming before halftime, when he simply handed the ball to WSU’s Jervae Robinson on a dribble handoff play.

We don’t know what was said or done in the locker room at halftime. Maybe Coach Miller gave a speech for the ages. Perhaps a ritual séance was performed and evil spirits were exorcised. Maybe Bennett Davison came in and tousled Coach Miller’s hair. Or maybe the players and coaches collectively took a deep breath and said to themselves, “we are a much better team than we have been playing so far, and if we calm down, do what we are supposed to do, and knock down some shots in front of a friendly home crowd, we should be able to handle this opponent, who is at both a serious talent and size deficit.”

Whatever it was, the Cats need to bottle it and drink it before every remaining minute of basketball they have left this year.

Was it a “Dylan Smith game”?

This is a bit of a tough one. It certainly wasn’t a good game for Dylan. He had three points on 1-of-5 shooting, pulled down only four boards in 26 minutes, fouled out, and also posted a dramatically lower plus/minus than any of the starters:

  • Stone Gettings +18
  • Zeke Nnaji +32
  • Josh Green +32
  • Nico Mannion +24
  • Dylan Smith +1

However, Dylan also beefed up the stat sheet with two steals and two blocks, helped shut down the dynamic WSU backcourt of CJ Elleby and Isaac Bonton, and I’d also argue that Dylan’s only basket, a 3-pointer for UA’s first points in the second half, was a critical basket in alleviating some tension and helping the Cats start their huge 26-0 outburst.

Also, later in the second half, Dylan made a nice drive into a soft spot in the zone and dished to a wide-open Christian Koloko for a jam. It was a nice display of controlled penetration and decision-making, which always deserves recognition when Dylan is involved.

What to make of Koloko?

Most Cats fans are happy to see Koloko getting more and more time. He is a tantalizing prospect who certainly seems able to impact the game on the defensive end. He also appears to be going through the typical phenomenon of being “sped up”. Unless he has a wide-open dunk, he appears to be trying to get rid of the ball as fast as humanly possible in the post. Whether this means shot putting the ball off the glass, or failing to gather himself before going back up, he is simply trying to play the game too fast. This is natural and players typically adjust to the rhythm of the college game by their sophomore year, but it is still tough to watch.

Also, it’s worth noting that despite being a defensive presence and recently being used late in games for defense/offense substitutions, Koloko typically registers low plus-minus ratings in his time on the court. Last night, he was the only non-walk-on to register a negative plus-minus rating at -8 in 9:32 of game time.

What’s going on with the roster?

I have no idea what is going on with the current roster volatility and suspensions and missed games, but I don’t like it. It feels like there is a fair amount of stuff rumbling behind the scenes with this team and I sincerely hope it doesn’t derail what the team is trying to accomplish. The fact that these issues are happening with senior players is even more mystifying.

One to grow on

Ryan highlighted the need for Jemarl Baker Jr. to get back on track. I’d echo that sentiment and add Stone Gettings as well. Both of these players have struggled mightily in recent games. Last night there were encouraging baby steps for both players as they contributed some scoring, but were also big in other categories, with Stone grabbing nine rebounds and Baker having a tidy five assists and no turnovers.

Particularly in light of the unknown circumstances surrounding for Chase Jeter and Max Hazzard, the Cats need contributions and confidence from every player stepping on the court.

“Can Sean Miller coach?”

Another of the hot topics discussed ad nauseam on this site. So, why not discuss it after every game? The answer here really depends on if you were asking this question during the first or second half. The first provided plenty of fodder for the “Miller can’t coach against a zone” contingent. For whatever reason, the Cats looked out of sorts in the first half. Two of Zeke’s misses on bunnies at the hoop were excellent play calls that got the ball to the Cats most dangerous scorer in a dangerous position, but he flubbed them. The Cats simply weren’t crisp with their ball movement either in the first half and allowed way too many open looks at 3 for the Cougars on the other end and gave them easy points in transition off turnovers.

In the second half, all those thoughts were erased. Nico has played his best basketball of the season in the last two games and last night he hit a variety of shots and facilitated without turning the ball over. The offense was humming, and quality looks were being generated and made all over the court. It was a thing of beauty. There was nary a bad shot in the second half, aside from one glaring Josh Green turnaround baseline jumper that probably had more to do with Josh just wanting to get involved in the offense at that point.

I also strongly agree with Miller’s assertion that the defense led to offense in the second half. Obviously, this team plays better in transition and nothing leads to better transition basketball than forcing turnovers and rebounding misses. Not only that, but this team, more so than many other recent teams, seems to yo-yo in the confidence category. Bad offense can beget bad defense and vice-versa. The snowball effect is strong with these players. Therefore, any play that players can make, be it on offense or defense, is likely to key a surge in confidence for themselves and their teammates. Even if the shots aren’t falling, you can still impact the game, as Dylan Smith did with his forced turnover on the inbounds pass that led to a Nico and-1 layup. Something for the Cats to remember moving forward.