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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Underestimating could come back to bite Arizona

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Rebecca Noble

Arizona men’s basketball head coach Sean Miller apprehensively watches Arizona’s 57-47 win over UCLA unfold in McKale Center on Saturday. Miller and the Wildcats have to avoid overlooking opponents as the season progresses.

While Arizona men’s basketball had a Thursday and Saturday to remember last week, and have won four straight, it’s time to rain on its parade.

No. 7 Wildcats (24-3, 11-2 Pac-12 Conference) beat UCLA on Saturday 57-47 to win their fourth straight game by at least 10 points, but it came after stressful starts to each half.

Arizona’s starters played like benchwarmers, as, once again, it seemed like the Wildcats overlooked an opponent.

“Our starters basically got punched in the face to the tune of 20-0,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said.

On Saturday, the Wildcats didn’t score their first points until 6:05 had passed. After the UA recovered and built a 14-point lead, it went another 6:51 without scoring to open the second half, blowing its 14-point lead in the meantime.

When asked what happened, Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell admitted the Wildcats’ nasty habit had returned.

“You probably could say we took them lightly in the beginning,” McConnell said. “Then, we had that lead in the second half and probably took them lightly, and they made us pay … and when you do that to a team like UCLA, they’ll do what they did.”

Arizona didn’t really have any business winning the game and was helped tremendously by UCLA’s lack of depth. Only eight Bruins played, despite three fouling out, and only one UCLA player scored more than 11 points: the coach’s son, Bryce Alford, who had 22 points on 13 shots.

Arizona’s starters only scored 30 points. Forwards Stanley Johnson was 1-for-9 from the field, Brandon Ashley was 2-for-10 from the field and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was 1-for-6 from the field.

“It’s really almost impossible to win when three players that you count on like that go 4-for-25,” Miller said about them.

Fortunately for the Wildcats, reserve guard Gabe York scored a team-high 13 points, and backup center Dusan Ristic was a perfect 4-for-4 from the field for 12 points.

“We were stagnant on offense, and we really didn’t run very good zone offense,” McConnell said. “But, [York] made some big shots, and he’s the key reason we won.”

Arizona’s depth was impressive. How many teams can still beat a potential NCAA tournament team with their stars playing so poorly? But, they can’t rely on bench players to get wins that often.

Arizona keeps overlooking opponents, a habit that has stuck it with three bad losses and dropped its road record to 6-3 when it should be 9-0.

After losing to RPI No. 96 UNLV and RPI No. 83 ASU, the Wildcats pledged to focus and bounce back — and they did.

After losing in Las Vegas, Arizona pounded ASU 73-49. After being upset at Oregon State, it won six in a row. After getting shocked at ASU, it won four in a row.

However, the win over UCLA showed chinks in the Wildcats’ armor. Sure, last week they retired Jason Terry’s jersey, beat USC by 30, hosted ESPN College GameDay and beat the Bruins. But if they follow their current modus operandi, they will lose to Colorado (12-14, 5-9) on Thursday or to California (16-11, 6-8) at home.

How many times do the Wildcats have to learn their lesson? Realistically, they should be undefeated.

At least on Saturday, the Wildcats showed it’s all hands on deck, making it look a little less likely that they will fall into another trap game.

In fact, after Miller ripped off his suit jacket on Saturday, he was tempted to help.

“I wanted to jump in there and start playing, but I couldn’t, so that was my best [move],” Miller said. “I probably looked like an idiot, but it won’t be the last time.”

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Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

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