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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Miller displeased with unspirited defense in second half of games

Simon Asher

Elijah Stewart dunks against Arizona on Thursday, Jan. 19 in the Galen Center, Los Angeles, Calif. Arizona beat USC 73-66.

LOS ANGELES– After another dominant first half, the Arizona Wildcats men’s basketball team blew a large second-half lead and barely hung on to win against the USC Trojans. Sound familiar?

The Wildcats penchant for blowing big leads isn’t the result of a porous offense or lack of playmakers; it comes down to one thing: defense.

“Our ability to endure, our ability to play for 40 minutes, to give everything you have for Arizona all the way to the finish line is non-existent,” said Arizona head coach Sean Miller. “I wish I had an answer, I don’t … This isn’t the first time a team has gone on a 30-11 run; I think it’s about the sixth time. We’ve hung on like this a number of times, and it’s really a bad sign moving forward.”

The Wildcats Jekyll-and-Hyde defense reared it’s ugly head against Texas A&M when they held a 24-point lead with just minutes to go only to see it squander away thanks to poor interior defense and three-point shooting. Fast-forward to last week when the Wildcats faced ASU, and the same thing happened again—this time to the tune of 10 Sun Devil threes to cut the lead to as little as 7 in the second half.

“It’s happened 10 times. In my time I’ve never coached a team that this has happened,” Miller said. “Usually if it happens then you’re 10-9. … We’re 17-2 and we give those runs up.”

Arizona created havoc against the Trojans, forcing USC to shoot 25.8 percent in the first half on just 8-of-31 shooting from the field, including going 1-of-10 from three. In the second half with nine minutes left, Elijah Stewart connected on back-to-back threes to cut the Wildcats’ lead. That slight series of shots by Stewart started a series of poor defensive possessions that saw a 23-point lead with 15 minutes to go dwindle to just 3 with 1:15 on the clock.

An agitated Miller referenced benching players who mail it in during the second half in the next game against UCLA and said he was not afraid to take a loss to prove a point. That loss might very well happen, especially if the Wildcats’ second half ways continue to show up in key moments of games.

“We don’t have time to really talk a lot about it; that’s the downside because we play UCLA at one o’clock,” Miller said. “But if we do that against UCLA, they will beat us by 30 points … It’s a number of guys that aren’t concentrating, aren’t giving great effort, don’t give everything they have.”

Miller’s sentiments about UCLA could be spot-on, and if the Wildcats have any hopes of sweeping the L.A. schools, they better figure out a remedy for an ailing second-half defense that continues to bleed away leads, because the No. 3 team in the country, the Bruins, also possess the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense. That’s a matchup the Wildcats will not overcome.

Follow Saul Bookman on Twitter.

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