Sean Miller finds himself in a mid-season hole – and just broke his shovel trying to dig out.
The University of Arizona head basketball coach is suffering through one of the most frustrating starts to conference play since arriving in Tucson seven years ago. He’s off to a 1-2 start and faced with yet another challenge tonight when the Wildcats host the No. 1 team in the Pac-12, the Washington Huskies.
And he will go into battle tonight without the team’s leading scorer.
Freshman Allonzo Trier broke his right hand in a loss to USC on Saturday that went into four overtimes before the Trojans pulled out the 103-101 win. Trier, the No. 18-ranked recruit in the nation last year, was averaging 14.8 points a game and averaging 3.5 rebounds. (Senior forward Ryan Anderson is just a hair behind Trier at 14.4 ppg.)
The 6’6″ guard injured his hand with three minutes left in regulation, but stayed in the game through all four overtime periods and finished with 25 points and six rebounds. He will miss playing against his home-town team tonight; he attended Findlay Prep in Seattle.
Worse yet, Trier is expected to be out four to six weeks.
This is uncharted territory for Miller. In his previous six seasons directing the Arizona program, he has never experienced back-to-back losses to begin the conference schedule. Even in his first campaign in the 2009-10 season, when he lost three out of the first five games, there were no consecutive losses.
Now he is faced with the possibility of extending this skid. Washington is 11-4 and undefeated (3-0) in conference, and are averaging better than 90 points a game in Pac-12 play.
And, while Arizona’s top gun will be watching from the sidelines, Washington will come at the Cats with the leading scorer in the conference, senior guard Andrew Andrews (21.6 ppg) and the leading freshman scorer, Dejounte Murray (15.2).
A strong defensive performance, ball control, and second-half effort will be keys to an Arizona win tonight.
The Huskies are eighth in the nation and best in the Pac-12 in forcing turnovers, accounting for double-digit turnovers in all 15 games this season. Trier’s absence will be a concern in that area.
And Huskies’ head coach Lorenzo Romar, the longest-tenured coach in the Pac-12 after 14 years at Washington, is good at making halftime adjustments. The Huskies have trailed their opponents at halftime in the last three conference games, but came back to win all three.
Arizona’s disastrous trip through California last week that included an 87-84 loss to UCLA, followed by the USC overtime heartbreaker, dropped the Wildcats from No. 7 in the national rankings all the way down to No. 16 in the AP rankings and No. 18 in the USA Today Coaches’ poll.
A loss during this week’s trip through Washington, the Huskies tonight and Washington State on Saturday, would put the Cats in an even deeper hole for a team that started the season with high expectations – and a top-10 ranking.
Miller needs to hand the shovel to someone else and begin the digging in earnest now.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)