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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona basketball notebook: European connection shines and Cats struggle from deep

Arizonas recent win over Texas A&M brought Wildcat fans unwanted flashbacks of the UAs heartbreaking 90-89 loss to No. 1 seed Illinois in the 2005 NCAA Mens Basketball tournament. In that Elite Eight game, Arizona led by 15 points with 4:04 to play, only to give up the lead and lose in overtime, sending the Illini to the Final Four. On Dec. 17, 2016, Arizona led Texas A&M by 20 with 4:32 to play, to see its lead cut to two at the 22-second mark.

Arizona’s recent win over Texas A&M brought Wildcat fans unwanted flashbacks of the UA’s heartbreaking 90-89 loss to No. 1 seed Illinois in the 2005 NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament. In that Elite Eight game, Arizona led by 15 points with 4:04 to play, only to give up the lead and lose in overtime, sending the Illini to the Final Four. On Dec. 17, 2016, Arizona led Texas A&M by 20 with 4:32 to play, to see its lead cut to two at the 22-second mark.

The No. 19 ranked Arizona Wildcats went on a business trip to Houston and they briefly took care of business before collapsing in the final five minutes of the game, but handed Texas A&M its third loss of the season beating the Aggies 67-63.

While the Aggies were a 4-point favorite over the Wildcats at tipoff, Arizona was on a mission to prove its seven-man rotation was capable of squaring up against anyone in the country. The Wildcats ability to close out close games are suspect, but they took on a power five conference team on the road and beat them to earn their 10th win of the season. Here’s the Saturday notebook from Arizona’s win in space city. 

2005 Elite Eight nostalgia

Arizona fans don’t like to talk about the 2005 Elite Eight, because it was one of the biggest collapses in Wildcat basketball history giving up a 15-point lead to Illinois with four minutes left to play.



With eight minutes left in the game Saturday, Arizona appeared to cruise to another road win and call it a day when the Wildcats were holding on to a 62-41 lead. As the No. 19 ranked team in the country with a plethora of potential NBA Draft picks, there’s no possible way the Cats could blow such a substantial lead, right?

Well anything that could’ve went wrong for Arizona went wrong as the Aggies turned up the comeback another notch in the final four minutes and slowly ate at the deficit in the closing stretch. The Aggies went on an 18-2 run in the final four minutes and cut Arizona’s lead to three, but couldn’t execute.



If the Aggies had an extra minute with Arizona, the certainty of the Wildcats pulling one out in Houston would’ve been murky.

European connection

The bright spot for the Wildcats was the duo of Dusan Ristic and Lauri Markkanen, formerly known as the European connection. Head coach Sean Miller’s offensive methods were evident in the opening minutes: feed Ristic as much as possible to get the frontcourt active early on.

Ristic finished the game with a team-high 18 points on 66 percent shooting and five rebounds, but struggled defensively against Texas A&M’s Tyler Davis who posted a double-double with 23 points and 10 rebounds.

Markkanen was already known as one of the top freshmen in the country before the game and is arguably the best shooting forward in college basketball.



Saturday, the Finland product scored 17 points on 5-for-10 from the field and 3-for-5 from 3-point land. Markkanen has vastly matured this season with the “baptized by fire” method Miller used, but he played like a freshman down the stretch, his last bucket coming with 11:25 left in the game. If Arizona wants to close out games without receiving a scare, Markkanen has to be firing on all cylinders at all times. 

Rawle Alkins and lack of 3-pointers

Rawle Alkins was starting to appear as another top threat from beyond the arc early in the season and was 57 percent in Arizona’s last road trip to Missouri. The tables have turned, because Alkins went 0-for-3 from 3-pointer, but fortunately for the Brooklyn native, his bulldozing frame allows him to get to the bucket at ease drawing fouls so half of his points against Texas A&M came off of free throws.

It’s not just Alkins though, because the team shot 20 percent against Texas A&M and was 1-for-7 in the second half. The only Wildcat to hit a 3-pointer was Markkanen and this hasn’t been a recent trend. The Wildcats are shooting 38.7 percent from 3-pointer and in games like Saturday where the opposing team goes on a scoring barrage, layups and free throws can only do so much. 

Offensive efficiency with seven players

At the end of the day, Arizona continued to impress the critics by going on the road in Houston with seven scholarship players considering the Aggies were a 4-point favorite just before tipoff.

Parker Jackson-Cartwright’s presence at point guard has been missed ever since he suffered from a high ankle-sprain against Texas Southern, because of his abilities to control the tempo. Arizona’s backcourt of Kadeem Allen and Kobi Simmons combined for 10 assists and only had five turnovers in 37 minutes. During Texas A&M’s comeback, the Wildcats committed four turnovers in the final three minutes and converted to playing conservative, which fueled the Aggies to attack Arizona even more. 

Uniforms

For the first time ever, Arizona wore its state pride uniforms, which had a Chinese New Year look with cardinal red as the primary color with copper trim.



Twitter had a field day pretending to vomit looking at the uniforms, but the Wildcats didn’t look bad until Texas A&M almost won after being down 22 points in the second half. Arizona returns home before Christmas against New Mexico Dec. 20 for a 7 p.m. tipoff. 


Follow Justin Spears on Twitter.



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