- It may only be November, but No. 2 Arizona has stumbled twice this week and now faces the prospect of going 0 for 3 at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas.
Arizona's business trip to Paradise Island continued to spiral on Thanksgiving when the Wildcats lost their second straight game to an unranked opponent, this time to SMU, 66–60.
Before the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament began, many hoped to see an Villanova-Arizona final, which would have pit two top-five teams against each other for an early season treat. Instead, 'Nova will take on surprising Northern Iowa in Friday's championship game, while Arizona, after losing to NC State and the Mustangs on back-to-back days, falls all the way into a consolation game that will determine whether it finishes in seventh or eighth ... out of eight teams.
Regardless of Friday's outcome, this week has been a dismal one for Arizona, which arrived in the Bahamas ranked second in the country. In Wednesday's loss to the Wolfpack, the Wildcats gave up 90 points—1.23 per possession—and 50 in the second half alone. On Thursday, the defensive effort was better but it was the offense that was stymied by the Mustangs' stingy D, recording just 0.91 points per possession. No one outside of stars Allonzo Trier and DeAndre Ayton was a real offensive threat, with the rest of the team combining for just 21 points (and only five from the bench). It was a similar story against NC State, stressing the importance that the Wildcats' find a third option ASAP as they await the return of the injured Rawle Alkins.
Against SMU, two end-of-game plays stood out in particular for Arizona: With just over a minute and a half remaining, the Wildcats had the ball down five with a chance to make it a one possession game. In an effort to get the ball to Ayton, senior point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright made a pass that Ayton never had a chance at as it got easily picked off by the Mustangs' Jarrey Foster.
That's the kind of late-game error you don't expect to see from a veteran like Jackson-Cartwright. On top of everything, it was Arizona's 20th turnover of the night, a number that's far too high if this team wants to reach its ceiling.
The other late play that stood out was Trier's decision to launch a pull-up three with 15 seconds remaining and his team down four. The junior settled for the shot—perhaps influenced by the fact that he already hit one critical three with a minute remaining—instead of trying to attack the basket for a potential quick two. Failure to follow his shot also allowed SMU to corral the rebound, essentially icing the game.
Something that shouldn't be lost in Thursday's result is that SMU is a solid team. The Mustangs came into the day ranked 30th on kenpom.com, and while they fell to Northern Iowa on Wednesday, they were statistically a definite step up from NC State. It's a big November win for SMU, which got 20 points from Ben Emelogu II and committed just eight turnovers, and the American conference.
Arizona is now left needing to attempt to quickly regroup once again for Friday's final game of the Battle 4 Atlantis—and despite the fact that it's for seventh place, it won't be an easy one. The Wildcats will take on Purdue, another team that began the week ranked and has so far found only disappointment in the Bahamas. The idea of Arizona and the Boilermakers meeting in this game and the realization that one will head back home having gone 0 for 3 is a head-scratcher, but it's clear that both teams have plenty of work to do—and perhaps need some tempered expectations, at least for now.