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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Arizona men’s basketball has things to work on

Tyler Baker
Tyler Baker / The Daily Wildcat

In its only exhibition before the regular season starts Friday, Arizona men’s basketball looked like a team that could contend for a National Championship at some point — just maybe not yet.

Coming into the season, it was a popular thought around the nation that the Wildcats have all the pieces to make a Final Four run, and there was no reason for that to change after Arizona’s 67-51 victory over Cal Poly Pomona.

That being said, the Wildcats have some things to work on.

It comes as no surprise that the Wildcats’ strength appears to be their defense. Since Sean Miller was hired in 2009, the Wildcats have used defense as their calling card, and despite losing shutdown defensive players like Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon, Arizona’s defense might be better this season with another year of Kaleb Tarczewski in the middle and the addition of physical freak Stanley Johnson.

Against Cal Poly Pomona, the defense forced 15 turnovers and gave the Broncos very little room to operate effectively. The defensive intensity displayed by the Wildcats helped spur a 19-0 run at the end of the first half and beginning of the second half, which finally gave Arizona the lead after trailing for much of the first.

Offensively, however, Sunday’s exhibition left a little to be desired. As of right now, the Wildcats look like they lack a true go-to offensive player. They certainly have the weapons with Johnson, Tarczewski, and Gabe York each scoring 12 points against the Broncos.

However, for the first 15 minutes or so of the first half, Arizona looked a little lost against Cal Poly Pomona’s matchup 2-3 zone. Some of that may be due to nerves and early-season rust, but unless the Wildcats start to shoot better from the outside — where they were only 3-11 for the game — they could continue to struggle against better competition.

“The first 15 minutes of the game, I thought we had a burden on us in terms of anxiety, lack of confidence, lack of sureness — a lot of the things I had alluded to earlier,” Miller said. “You didn’t sense that we came out as a team filled with confidence and ‘here we go,’ and that’s kind of our personality. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as much as being able to get more repetitions in games and play together more, it will really serve us well.”

With senior T.J. McConnell leading the way at point guard and Brandon Ashley back from last season’s injury, which kept him out for the last few months, the Wildcats will likely figure out how to score more effectively as the season progresses. That even began to show in the second half when Arizona shot 61.5 percent after a mostly poor 38.5 percent in the first.

The Wildcats’ No. 2 preseason ranking won’t change after a sometimes unconvincing 16-point victory over a Division II opponent, and it shouldn’t. But for Miller and the rest of the team to accomplish what they want to come April, they still have to work on some things.


Follow Brian Peel on Twitter.

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