ASU had taken a 3-0 lead when Arizona committed the first of what would be 20 turnovers on Monday night, and the Sun Devils made it pay for that mistake. And the next one, and the one after that, and the next three as well.
Five consecutive Sun Devils baskets came immediately after the UA turned it over, contributing to the it falling behind 13 points less than four minutes into the game. Though Arizona ended up winning comfortably, the 91-79 victory once against showed just how much of a problem giveaways are for the Wildcats.
It was the third time this season that No. 4 Arizona (20-2, 10-1 Pac-12) has turned it over 20 or more times, matching the same number of occurrences during the previous eight seasons. It has won all three of those games, but expecting that to always be the case would be unwise, particularly as the Wildcats are set to face the Pac-12’s two best teams in terms of forcing turnovers.
Thursday’s opponent, Washington State, is getting a takeaway on 22.3 percent of possessions in conference play, second only to Saturday opponent Washington (23.6 percent). Arizona has already experienced Washington’s ability to turn the ball over, giving it away 21 times at McKale Center on Jan. 3.
The Huskies converted those turnovers into 25 points, or more than 31 percent of their points in the 95-79 loss. ASU got 32 points off Arizona’s turnovers, or 40.5 percent of its scoring, the fourth time a UA opponent has had more than 30 percent of its points come directly off turnovers.
The turnover issue is one that coach Tommy Lloyd has been asked about countless times this season, to the point he brings it up on his own just as much as he’s queried. In mid-January he noted that going for highlight-reel plays was a big contributor to Arizona’s turnover count, saying “we don’t need perfect plays, we just need to accumulate a bunch of simple plays.”
The Wildcats have been better since then in that area, but with more teams trying to limit the number of possessions in a game the last thing they can afford is having a trip down the court not end with a shot of some sort.
In fact, when the UA’s possessions do not end in turnovers they overwhelming do results in points. More than 66 percent of the Wildcats’ non-turnover possessions have produced scores, including 75 percent against ASU and 74.6 percent when they beat Washington last month.
Washington State, which is first in the Pac-12 in defensive efficiency, has held 10 of its 11 conference opponents to below one point per possession. The Cougars (14-7, 7-3) also play at the second-slowest pace in the league, which will amplify every empty possession the UA has on Thursday night.