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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

Arizona WBB looks to rebound at home against UC San Diego
Jason Dayee, Assistant Sports Editor • December 7, 2023
 

    Separating excellence

    Roman Veytsmansports editor
    Roman Veytsman
    sports editor

    It was legendary UCLA coach John Wooden who said, “”Never mistake activity for achievement.””

    On Saturday morning, in the midst of Arizona’s second-worst home loss in the Lute Olson era – second only to the 28-point loss suffered Jan. 27 against No. 4 North Carolina – every member of Arizona’s squad could have used a dose of Wooden.

    The No. 19 Wildcats had more rebounds, they shot more free throws, and you can’t fault the hustle of senior Mustafa Shakur. But none of it led to much success.

    In a man-to-man defense to start the game, the Wildcats found themselves down faster than Luke Walton and Richard Jefferson, who sat next to each other courtside, could say, “”We are Arizona basketball.””

    After they switched to a 1-3-1 zone, they were late rotating out to shooters. No. 5 UCLA made 13-of-28 3-pointers, while Arizona shot 4-of-12.

    “”Whether you’re in a man or zone, you’ve got to work your tail off,”” Olson said. “”They came out in the second half and drained some 3s. We went from a zone to a man, and they scored five out of the next six possessions.””

    Forward Josh Shipp led the Bruins in points, with 24, and stare-downs after dunks. Shipp’s activity was efficient. He was 10-of-14 from the field and had one turnover.

    Guard Darren Collison was also efficient. He made 5-of-7 3-pointers and had a ridiculous stat line of 17 points and 15 assists. His first half-assist total of 10 looked like a typo.

    “”When things aren’t going their way, good teams come out and get a good look and knock down that shot, and that’s what they did (Saturday),”” said freshman Chase Budinger.

    Meanwhile, there were no typos for Arizona. With nine losses and numerous record-setting performances scattered throughout the year – which all seem to date back to 1983-84 or 1982-83, when Arizona went 4-24 – the Wildcats are becoming all too accustomed to losing. The last time Arizona lost four home conference games was ’83-84, when it lost 17 games overall.

    “”A place like this, we shouldn’t be losing games like this at home, and it’s frustrating,”” Budinger said.

    On Senior Day, one seniors, Ivan Radenovic, failed to rise to the occasion, scoring a season-low four points.

    It was Arizona’s second consecutive loss on Senior Day, making the postgame Senior Day celebrations “”bittersweet,”” Shakur said.

    “”I got in foul trouble and kind of lost that rhythm,”” Radenovic said. “”It took me a lot of time to get back in the game.””

    Radenovic didn’t receive much help from junior Jawann McClellan either. McClellan, usually the team’s energizer, played only the last minute of each half.

    The Wildcats did show glimpses of energy. When Arizona went on a 12-0 run in the first half to tie the game at 23, capped by freshman Jordan Hill’s two-handed jam, the noise threatened to knock off the McKale Center roof as the sea of red went bonkers. But UCLA answered right away, scoring the next seven points.

    “”We didn’t recognize what we needed to change fast enough,”” Shakur said. “”I still think that we got some pretty good shots, but we didn’t make the ones we needed to make at the right time to stop their run.””

    Arizona’s inability to sustain that level of energy is what separated it from UCLA’s excellence.

    “”That’s the kind of effort that it takes,”” Olson said of UCLA. “”Somebody scores a bucket off of you, it should hurt. It doesn’t hurt right now. That’s the biggest problem that we have.””

    Outside of McKale, that loud thud is probably the group of experts quickly piling out of the bandwagon. ESPN’s Jay Bilas had Arizona as a dark-horse national championship contender after the win against No. 15 Oregon, but after the loss to UCLA, ESPN’s Tom Brennan had Arizona as the team that worries him heading toward the NCAA Tournament.

    The bandwagon jumpers likely saw what Olson saw: Arizona’s complete disregard for playing tough defense.

    “”We have to get to the point where we realize that if you’re not a good, solid defensive team on every possession, you’re not a good team,”” Olson said.

    “”UCLA is a very good team because they compete on every possession.””

    Arizona has not beaten a national top-five team at home since defeating No. 2 Stanford in March 2000.

    The Bruins, who Olson said could be the best team in the country, left Tucson as the teachers. The Wildcats, for now, are merely the students.

    “”I think we got a lesson taught to us, and we’ll see whether that pays off,”” Olson said.

    Olson’s thinking isn’t so far off from Wooden’s.

    After all, it was Wooden who said, “”It is what we learn after we think we know it all that counts.””

    Roman Veytsman is a journalism senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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