The University of Arizona men’s basketball team is not in a good place as the Wildcats get ready to tangle with Gonzaga this weekend.
Arizona returned from the DirecTV Wooden Legacy tournament in California after settling for a third-place finish. The Cats struggled in the opening game of the weekend tourney with a win-less Santa Clara team that went into overtime before Arizona escaped with a two-point victory, and then suffered a big upset to then-unranked Providence in the semifinals.
As a result, the 10th-ranked Cats fell to No. 14 in the USA Today/ Coaches Poll and from No. 11 to No. 19 in the AP Top 25. The four-point drop in the coaches’ poll was the biggest among all the top 25 teams.
They beat a 3-4 Boise State team in the final game of the tourney, but let the Broncos back in the game after building a 19-point lead. Arizona won by nine, 68-59, but it wasn’t pretty.
The Cats sprinkled 17 turnovers throughout the game, which the Broncos converted into 17 points. And, although they dominated in the paint – 40 points to 24 – they couldn’t find the target from the perimeter, converting just 25 percent from behind the arc.
And now come the Zags, the No. 12/13 team in the nation. who just knocked off No. 18 UConn and are 4-1 on the season. Worse yet, the Saturday afternoon game will be played on the road in Spokane.
The Arizona team that was expected to take the floor this season would likely take this game in stride as it moves up the national rankings, not down. The Wildcats are coming off two straight Elite Eight appearances and, despite losing four starters, were a top-10 pick in the preseason polls.
But right now the Cats are in a different place.
A loss to Gonzaga probably wouldn’t drop them from the top-25 rankings, but it would push them even lower and make the climb back into the top 10 all the more difficult.
So this game can’t really be tagged with a ‘must-win’ label…but it could prove to be a turning point on the way back up the ladder. Or another rung on the way down.
Arizona has a full week to prepare for the Zags, but Gonzaga will tune up with a game tonight against unbeaten (6-0) Washington State.
Before the Cats get to Spokane for Saturday’s game, they will hopefully have developed a closer relationship with the basketball. Over the three games in the Wooden Legacy tourney, they turned the ball over 54 times, giving up 60 quick points – 26 alone in the loss to Providence.
The good news: the Cats are having no trouble controlling the boards. They handled all three opponents at the Legacy by an average 13 rebounds a game – and did it without the services of 7-foot senior Kaleb Tarczewski who was sidelined after suffering an ankle injury in the first game. (*Update: CBS Sports has reported that Tarczewski will miss the Gonzaga game, and could be out for the rest of the month.)
The bad news: they have defensive lapses. Like they did in the tournament opener when Santa Clara guard Jared Brownridge went off on them for 44 points.
But there was a good sign against Boise State when Arizona spread the scoring around instead of relying heavily on Ryan Anderson. The 6’9″ senior forward, a transfer from Boston College who is leading the team with 16 points and 10 rebounds a game, led the Cats’ scoring with 17 points against Santa Clara and had 27 in the loss to Providence. In that Providence game, the only other player in double figures was Gabe York, who had just 10 points.
The Cats rebounded from that loss by sharing the scoring load against Boise State. Five players scored in double digits and Anderson, who had 11 points, even took a back seat to Kadeem Allen and Allonzo Trier who led the team with 13 apiece.
They’ll need that kind of team effort to be able to leave Spokane with a much-needed ‘W’.
Seventh-year head coach Sean Miller is still trying to blend a top-five recruiting class with four veterans and several transfers and come up with a rotation that will bring some consistency.
Trier, a 6’6″ five-star shooting guard ranked No. 4 in the country at his position, is still trying to get comfortable with the game at the college level and adjust to Miller’s systems. And Allen, another guard still trying to get up to speed, is stepping onto the court after a year of sitting out a redshirt season after transferring in from Hutchinson CC in Kansas. The 6’3″ Allen was the 2014 National JUCO Player of the Year.
Allen averaged 30 points a game as a sophomore at Hutchinson and Trier averaged 26 points last year as a senior at Nevada’s Findlay Prep.
Saturday would be a good time for both of them to elevate their scoring game again. Ryan Anderson can use the help right now.
(Photo: Gonzaga Athletics)