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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Arizona looking to break funk against Golden Bears

Simon Asher

Arizona’s Kobi Simmons shoots above Stanford’s Reed Travis (22) during the Arizona-Stanford game on Feb. 8. The Wildcats beat the Cardinal 74-67.

Arizona heads in to their matchup with the California Golden Bears on Saturday facing the same questions that plagued them throughout December. The Wildcats are in a funk.

Before the return of Allonzo Trier and the Wildcats’ triumphant victory at Pauley Pavilion, Arizona had issues maintaining leads and struggled in the low post.

In the five games since the Wildcats defeated UCLA in Los Angeles, they have allowed teams like the Washington Huskies and Oregon State Beavers to stay competitive into the second half of their matchups. Against the Cardinal, who currently sit at No. 8 in the Pac-12 Conference, they were outscored 42-16 in the paint and allowed junior forward Reid Travis to finish the game with 26 points and 11 rebounds.

If Travis’ dominance against Dusan Ristic, Lauri Markkanen and Chance Comanche is any indication to how the front court will perform against the Bears, the Wildcats could be in big trouble.

California comes into the game on a five-game winning streak and have won eight of their last nine games. Sophomore forward Ivan Raab has been a dominant force down low and has been hot during the Bears’ five-game streak.

RELATED: Arizona once again starts slow, still able to hold on against Stanford Cardinal

Raab is averaging 16.0 points per game and 11.4 rebounds per game in his last five outings. Ristic struggled to defend Stanford’s Travis, and Raab brings an element of physicality to his game that seemingly gives him a favorable matchup with Arizona’s main interior player.

Arizona head coach Sean Miller was frustrated with his team’s inability to play the aggressive style of man defense that Miller employs. In fact, Miller flat out said players who struggle on defense just won’t play.

“We have guys who think they are NBA players,” Miller said, “… but they can’t guard the ball. Not only are you not getting picked, you’re not getting invited to [NBA] camp. We have a number of players who can’t guard their man.”

Markkanen’s struggles carried into the game against the Cardinal, and he started out 1-6 from the 3-point line before hitting a clutch 3-pointer that broke a tie with under two minutes to play. In his last three games, Markkanen is averaging 6.7 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. For comparison, he averages 15.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.

“[Wednesday] was the first time that I felt that his confidence was a little shaken, but making that 3 down the stretch in the left corner was big,” Miller said, “He has to also has to be able to do some other things. We played him 28 minutes and he had two defensive rebounds. He’s 7 feet; you have to go get the ball.”

Freshmen Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins each played 19 minutes Wednesday, and Simmons was moved to the bench because of Trier’s return to the starting five. Stanford guard Marcus Allen scored 15 points, mostly against Simmons and Alkins, and was described by Miller as a “line drive scorer,” meaning he does nothing but drive to the basket. If either Simmons or Alkins plays under 20 minutes against California, you can bet Miller was talking about them when he talked about his players not being able to guard their man.

At 18-6 the Golden Bears are right on the edge of consideration for the NCAA tournament, and a win in McKale Center could possibly lock up their spot. The Wildcats need the victory to keep pace with the Oregon Ducks in the Pac-12.

The best part about being in a funk is knowing that at some point, things will turn around. Now is the time for the Wildcats.

Follow Christopher Deak on Twitter 

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