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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Arizona shows early needs for improvement


Arizona guard Gabe York (1) attempts a shot in the first half of the game against Boise State on Nov. 19. York led the Wildcats with 23 points.

The Arizona men’s basketball team has given fans plenty to cheer about through its first three games. Though the team is comprised of mostly new faces to the program, players like Ryan Anderson, Mark Tollefsen and Allonzo Trier have shown signs of impressive play to start the season.

However, there is also plenty for the No. 12 Wildcats to work on as they head into the bulk of their non-conference schedule. One particular area of improvement is the slow starts the Wildcats have experienced.

Arizona’s largest halftime margin was a 41-24 lead during their first game against Pacific. Since then, the Wildcats had a six-point lead over Bradley and a two-point lead over Boise State.

Arizona led 39-33 at half of the Bradley game. The team shot 1-for-9 from beyond the arc and only grabbed 16 of their 43 total rebounds in the first 20 minutes.

The Wildcats allowed Boise State to shoot 46.2 percent from three in the first half, compared to 23.5 percent in the last 20 minutes. Arizona, however, saw its shooting numbers improve in the second half.

The Wildcats shot 51.5 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc in the first half, before shooting 57.7 percent from the field and 66.7 percent from the 3-point line in the second half. The offense was helped in large part by Gabe York, who finished with 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting and 4-of-7 from beyond the arc.

In short, this team has been a second-half type of team.

Defensively, Arizona has been much different than years past. Boise State led the Wildcats up until the final minutes of the first half, scoring 42 points. Arizona only forced four first half turnovers and 10 total turnovers for the game.

“Our defense isn’t as good as [it has] been,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said. “Some of this also has to fall on us [and] where we are as a defensive team; we have to grow and get better. We don’t want to get in these shootouts.”

Miller also said the team has the ability to become a better defensive team, but it will take time because of all of the new faces on the team.

“If we would’ve played this team three weeks ago, we would’ve been worse on defense,” Miller said.

The Wildcats’ head coach stressed how important defense is for this team moving forward.

“There was a lot of challenges tonight that they gave us, but I would say our No. 1 thing is defending the basketball,” Miller said. “Keeping the guy in front, containing it at all five positions, not fouling. There’s a lot to that, but we’ll keep getting better at that. I’m sure about that.”

One of Arizona’s strengths that has lacked in the past couple of seasons has been its depth. Through the first three games, the MVP from each night has changed from Anderson, to Trier to York.

Arizona had seven of its nine players play 18 minutes or more Thursday night. It has given players like Trier and Parker Jackson-Cartwright a chance to play significant minutes, leading to strong performances. Even Dusan Ristic, who played only nine minutes Thursday night, had eight points and five rebounds.

“As of right now, I think we have 10 guys that can play and we can play anywhere,” York said. “That’s another great thing about this team is that we have 10 guys. One person gets in foul trouble, the next guy is up and there’s not a drop off.”

The growing pains are to be expected early in the season with so many new faces. The positives outweigh the negatives with this team, as they have improved each game. Boise State was an early test for Arizona and it proved it can make the in-game changes necessary to come out with the win.

Follow Kyle Hansen on Twitter.

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