Arizona faces challenging road trip to the Bay Area

Jacob Snow - USA Today Images 2020

Gary Randazzo

Arizona, fresh off the heels of a disappointing loss to UCLA, which included a historically significant shooting night at McKale Center, the Wildcats look to bounce back, the hard way, on the road at California and Stanford.

Sean Miller was left answering some tough questions after the Wildcats shot a record-low 25.4 percent from the floor in a 65-52 loss to UCLA, just days after nearly blowing a 20-point lead to USC. Miller discussed tempo and style of play as driving factors in how the Wildcats performed in both games, attributing team youth and newness as sub-factors in Arizona’s own preferred, up tempo style of play.

During his mid-week presser, Miller explained to the local media that at the collegiate level, poor decisions early in the shot clock can trigger quick and explosive scoring runs that allow an opponent to either quickly catch up or pull away.

The Wildcats (16-7, 6-4 Pac-12) experienced a bit of both against the Trojans and Bruins. Against USC, a 20-point lead with just over 12 minutes remaining was reduced to a single possession in the game’s final minute. Against a UCLA, a one-point deficit quickly grew to double digits as UCLA raced away for the win over the game’s final 10 minutes. In each game, early, at times ill-advised shot attempts that did not go down hurt Arizona.

Miller explained that experienced teams are better equipped to handle offensive shooting adversity, and said how hard he and the coaching staff are working with the players to help them understand how time and situation decisions can impact a game, positively or negatively.

Those lessons, and how well they have been absorbed by the players, will be put to the test in the Bay Area. The California Bears are a patient team that plays a style very similar to UCLA. Conversely, although Stanford’s offense likes to push the ball in transition and play fast, they rely heavily on their defense to trigger their offense.

If Arizona continues to shoot poorly, the team could be in for a very rough road trip. However, if Arizona is able to maintain its pose in the face of adversity, allow its own defense to trigger transition scoring, work the basketball inside the paint rather than settle for early outside shots, and continue to protect the basketball the way they have so far in Pac-12 play, a potential sweep of California and Stanford will help everyone forget about the loss to UCLA.

The Wildcats are currently 1.5 games back of conference leading Colorado, yet own the head-to-head win over the Buffaloes. Arizona has eight games remaining, with four on the road and four at home.