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What we learned from Arizona’s loss to Stanford

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Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

The Arizona Wildcats lost to the Stanford Cardinal for the first time in McKale Center since 2008 on Thursday, falling 73-64 to drop to 12-4 on the season and 6-4 in the Pac-12.

Our full recap can be found here, head coach Sean Miller’s postgame press conference can be watched/read here, and below are some additional takeaways from the loss, which snapped UA’s three-game winning streak.

The last 7 minutes couldn’t have gone much worse

James Akinjo drove into the lane, spun the ball around his back and skipped a pass into the corner to Terrell Brown Jr. The senior guard swished the 3-pointer to put the Wildcats up 57-52 with 7:35 left. The highlight play capped a 9-0 run and gave them their largest lead of the night.

“Arizona is rolling right now,” I tweeted.

That turned out to be a dumb comment because Stanford wound up outscoring Arizona 21-7 the rest of the way.

The Wildcats totally fell apart on both ends of the ball. They missed 10 of their last 12 shots while allowing the Cardinal to make seven of their last nine. And that’s when they weren’t at the free throw line.

Miller mostly attributed the collapse to fatigue, saying Arizona was worn down from playing their third game in eight days. Not to mention Bennedict Mathurin and Jordan Brown were limited by ankle injuries and James Akinjo, Azuolas Tubelis and Terrell Brown all played 34 minutes or more.

“We were sloppy and we looked like a team that there was hoping we could win, but we weren’t ready locked in, or prepared,” Miller said. “We weren’t a together group. When it really got tough the last eight minutes, we just kind of went away. We didn’t take care of the ball, and there’s just so many details that you got to be alert with when you play Stanford. I’m not so sure we got very many of those right, and you felt it. They ran their system. Stanford’s a team that’s going to really execute, to their credit.”

It’s worth noting that Arizona also had late-game woes on Monday against ASU, getting outscored 49-40 in the second half and 24-18 over the final eight minutes.

The lack of depth is a real concern.

The defense struggled against another good opponent

Arizona could not string stops together for almost the entire game. From the 13:02 mark of the first half until the final buzzer, the Wildcats did not force three consecutive misses a single time. (Stanford did it five times during that stretch.)

Here’s a rundown of every Stanford field goal attempt. The red checkmarks are makes; the Xs are misses:

It’s not like Arizona was forcing turnovers, either. The Cardinal only committed 12 all game even though that has been one of their biggest weaknesses this season.

Simply put, the Wildcats struggled to guard a Cardinal team that was missing three of their top four scorers.

“We broke down on our underneath, out-of-bounds defense. We broke down on our assignments,” Miller said. “And I think for about 30 minutes, we played as good a defense without fouling (as we have). Not that our defense was perfect, but they didn’t drive the ball and get fouls. But the last eight minutes, it was just drive, drive, drive, foul, foul, foul. And I’ve kind of seen that movie before. When we’ve lost games this year, our defense just abandons us. And that’s what happened in this game from the eight-minute mark on. We just had no ability to get a stop.”

Arizona’s defense dropped to 59th in the country in KenPom. While their adjusted defensive rating is 95.9 for the season, Miller is right that it has spiked in all four losses—and rather significantly:

  • at Stanford: 112.7
  • vs. USC: 115.8
  • vs. UCLA: 124.8
  • vs. Stanford: 103.5

Arizona’s frontcourt got outmuscled

Maybe the most striking stat from the night is that Arizona got outscored 34-14 in the paint, thanks in part to surrendering 13 layups.

The Wildcats have one of the tallest teams in the country, but just got outmuscled by the Cardinal. Arizona’s four frontcourt players combined for just 13 points and 13 rebounds on 4-of-17 shooting. Other than Christian Koloko’s three blocks at the rim, they seemed to lose every battle at the rim.

Tubelis had the most trouble, posting four points and four rebounds on 1-of-9 shooting. He was held scoreless in the first half.

“They were very physical in a good way, but Azuolas didn’t play well,” Miller said. “He’s got to be ready. He’s got to be locked in, using fakes around the basket. Because of Stanford’s low post trapping and the way they play defense, there’s no big guy that plays against Stanford that’s going to have an easy night. And I thought that he got frustrated at times and when you get frustrated, and the game starts to become about how you’re doing, it’s too hard. Your defense goes, you foul, you miss shots and exactly what happened to him, that’s what happens.”

Bennedict Mathurin looked good, all things considered

A report came out before the game that Mathurin was only going to be used in an emergency situation because of his ankle injury.

So much for that.

The freshman checked in after the very first media timeout and played pretty well despite being less than 100 percent. He finished with 10 points, four rebounds and two assists in 26 minutes off the bench.

Mathurin went 3 for 5 from the field, buried a 3, was fouled on another triple (and made all three free throws) and sank this smooth two-dribble pull-up:

Mathurin did not look as explosive as usual—analyst Jay Bilas mentioned that Mathurin didn’t attack a closeout like he usually does—but give him props for gutting through it.

“It shows how much he loves the game and how much he loves the team,” said Dalen Terry, who started in Mathurin’s place. “I know his ankle was hurting him, but he just did what he what he could. As the game went on, I feel like he got adrenalin and was able to push through.”

No one was sure what to expect from Mathurin because he did not practice during the game. Arizona took a cautious approach with him and Miller said “if I had to do it all over again, I would do the exact same thing.”

“Because we found out really at shootaround today and really in pregame warmups that he was going to be able to help us,” he said. “He made a few shots, he also hurt us a couple times, but I really credit Benn. I mean, our best bet was to play him in the role that we played him in, but we weren’t a functioning group. We weren’t smooth in any phase of the game—turnovers, defense scouting, execution. And when you’re playing against a team that I think is a really together group like Stanford, you’re not going to be successful.”

This was Arizona’s worst offensive performance in Pac-12 play

The Wildcats averaged .914 points per possession against Stanford, their lowest mark of the season other than when they averaged .905 in the 70-67 win over Eastern Washington.

Stanford is clearly well-coached. They are the ninth-best defensive team in the country, per KenPom, and didn’t miss a beat even though they were missing three starters.

They stifled shots at the rim and didn’t allow many easy looks. And since they did not turn the ball over much or take dumb shots, Arizona did not have many opportunities to push the pace. And, as we know, Arizona is at their best when they are not stuck in a halfcourt game.

Early on, James Akinjo was Arizona’s only answer, scoring 12 points and dishing out four assists in the first half, accounting for 21 of UA’s 29 points.

Whether it was because of fatigue or a defensive adjustment, he was held check in the second half, posting just five points, two assists and five turnovers. That gave him six turnovers on the night, tied for his most all season. (He also had six in the first matchup against Stanford.)

Terrell Brown Jr. was also uncharacteristically loose with the ball by committing three turnovers, tying the season-high he set last game against ASU.

For most of the season, Arizona has done three things well offensively: limit turnovers, get to the free throw line and rack up second-chance points.

None of those things happened against Stanford.

“One of the problems with the situation that we have right now is we’re beaten up,” Miller said. “And playing three games in a week, playing four games in 10 days, you don’t have a lot of time in between games to recuperate, to practice, to get those repetitions in. And in my mind we looked like a team that wasn’t as ready as we needed to be.”

No homecourt advantage, but at least McKale looks good on TV?

A raucous crowd sure could have come in handy for the Wildcats, who suffered their third home loss of the season, but CBS national writer Gary Parrish was at least impressed by the way McKale Center looks on TV:

The Wildcats are 115-15 in their last 130 games in McKale, but six of those losses have come in the last two seasons alone.