Loss to UNLV may actually be good for UA basketball

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                </div>  Sometimes, a loss isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A good case in point might be last week’s surprise 71-67 upset of the then-No. 3 University of Arizona men’s basketball team […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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Sometimes, a loss isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

A good case in point might be last week’s surprise 71-67 upset of the then-No. 3 University of Arizona men’s basketball team by unranked UNLV.  The Rebels knocked off the Wildcats in front of a packed house at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas for their biggest win in years.

Did the Cats get caught looking past the Rebels, thinking more about their next game when they begin Pac-12 play?  Maybe.

If that’s the case, this was an important lesson to learn as they get ready to begin their quest for a second straight regular-season Pac-12 title.  Despite the fact that the conference is not as strong as it has been in recent seasons, they will need to take it one game at a time the rest of the way and focus on the task at hand.

And that especially holds true for their next game, which will be a Jan. 4 home game against rival Arizona State. The Sun Devils (8-5) closed out the non-conference potion of their schedule with a 56-46 victory over Harvard on Sunday, so they’re on a roll.

But the monkey is off the back of the Wildcats now.  After going undefeated through their first 12 games, it’s too easy to begin playing not to lose, rather than playing to win.  The pressure that comes with avoiding that first loss has been lifted and the Cats should be a looser team when the Sun Devils roll into the Old Pueblo.

That’s not to say that the Wildcats can’t handle success.  They won their first 21 games last season before suffering a loss.  That led to a No. 1 national ranking that they held for eight consecutive weeks.

But after the regular season ended, they were beaten by Wisconsin in the NCAA West Region finals, losing by a point in overtime.

This year, that won’t be an acceptable stepping-off point.  This year the goal is the first Final Four appearance since 2001, and possibly another national championship banner to hang in McKale Center next to the one Lute Olson brought to the school in 1997.

After last week’s loss, Arizona took a hit in the rankings, dropping to No. 7 in the Coaches Poll and No. 8 in the AP poll.  But they’re still a top-10 team with aspirations for a deep run into the post-season.  More than aspirations, they are expected to go deep into the tourney this year.  Anything short of a Final Four appearance will be a huge disappointment for Wildcat Nation.

The loss against UNLV, however, shows their vulnerability.  The Cats had the hot hand in the first half, shooting 62 per cent from behind the arc to take a 41-36 lead into halftime, but couldn’t hit a single trey in seven attempts in the second half and shot just 36 per cent from the field for the half.

They also shot just 59.3 per cent from the free-throw line and were out-rebounded in the game, 46-33.  It was hard to tell this was a team that began the season ranked No. 2 in the country.

It was also just the fourth time all season they have failed to put up at least 70 points.  Their next opponent, ASU, has just three games with fewer than 70 points and are averaging 73.5 points.  And they can get the job done on the boards, out-rebounding Harvard, 40-23.

The Sun Devils could be a ‘trap game’ this season.  They’re catching the Cats coming off a major loss and, at the same time, have been steadily improving over the past few weeks.

And they’re getting a big boost lately with the infusion of three junior-college transfers into the starting line-up. That added experience provides an immediate impact that accelerates the team’s growth and makes them a dangerous opponent.

The next game on the schedule could tell us a lot – about both teams.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)