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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: It’s soul searching time for Arizona… again

The+Arizona+bench+watches+the+action+during+Arizonas+81-78+defeat+against+ASU+on+Saturday+at+Wells+Fargo+Arena+in+Tempe%2C+Ariz.+The+Wildcats+struggled+defensively+and+have+work+to+do+for+the+rest+of+the+season

The Arizona bench watches the action during Arizona’s 81-78 defeat against ASU on Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe, Ariz. The Wildcats struggled defensively and have work to do for the rest of the season

TEMPE, Ariz. — What a difference a game makes.

The last time No. 6 Arizona men’s basketball faced ASU, they routed the Sun Devils, winning 73-49 in Tucson. However, Saturday in Tempe, Ariz., the Sun Devils upset the Wildcats 81-78.

ASU, which averaged 69.7 points per game before Saturday, scored 32 more points at home than at McKale. It wasn’t the Sun Devils’ pathetic fan support that was the difference.

Arizona coach Sean Miller saw it early and called a timeout 55 seconds into the game.

“We didn’t have our defense,” Miller said. “We didn’t have it at that point, we never got it.”

The Wildcats (20-3, 8-2 Pac-12) held the Sun Devils to 32.6 percent shooting in Tucson, but ASU shot 50 percent on Saturday.

“Sometimes, as the game plays itself out, you dig down and really feel like you didn’t deserve to win the game. And really that’s how I felt,” Miller said.

After leading for almost eight minutes, the Wildcats’ usually stout defense failed them and they lost at ASU (12-11, 4-6), hardly the most intimidating road venue, for the second season in a row.

“The reason we lost was our defense. We gave up 80 points. That’s pretty much all I can say,” Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell said. “It was our defense.”

Arizona lost its momentum after not playing a game in over a week, but McConnell said the lay off was not to blame.

“It’s just when we have a team that’s not ready, we’re not going to win against any team,” McConnell said.

Arizona kept responding offensively to ASU — often getting to within two points — but was unable to get over the hump because they couldn’t piece together any runs in the second half, because they couldn’t string together stops.

“I think in those three losses, we had a chance to put teams away,” McConnell said. “I think with about eight minutes left in each game and we just don’t. We got to figure out why we’re not doing that and move on.”

Miller told the media and the players that all three of the Wildcats’ losses, 71-67 at UNLV, 58-56 at Oregon State and Saturday, had a common theme.

“Like all of our losses, they all had a common theme that we weren’t focused, weren’t ready to defend,” said Arizona forward Brandon Ashley.

Not even 25 points from McConnell, his UA career-high, was enough to save the Wildcats.

“It’s tough,” McConnell said. “I don’t really care how I play offensively. I worry about defense as long as we win, and we didn’t do that tonight. So we pretty much throw my offensive game out the door.”

ASU didn’t even change what they’ve been doing. Four Sun Devils scored 14 or more points.

“They did what they’ve been doing, they did it exceptionally well and they picked on a number of our guys,” Miller said.

Once again, it’s soul-searching time for the Wildcats. Will they respond well from yet another embarrassing loss to a bad team? After losing to UNLV, Arizona beat ASU 73-49 and after losing to Oregon State, the Wildcats won six games in a row.

“Man, you hope at this point in the season you don’t need a wake up call,” Ashley said. “That being said, we’re at that point, in all honesty. After a loss, you can only go up.”

Up next for Arizona is the trip to face the Washington schools, which like UNLV, Oregon State and ASU have ugly records, but they will feature less UA fans and more hostile environments than Wells Fargo Arena — AKA McKale North.

“It’s a loss that is hard, but what we have to do is we have to get back on the saddle, so to speak,” Miller said. “We’re headed on the road for two games and we’re going to get people’s best shot, best crowd because of our ranking and sometimes when you go through this, it’s a reminder of how easy it is to lose.”

“We’re headed on the road for two games and we’re going to get people’s shot, best crowd because of our ranking. Sometimes when you go through this, it’s a reminder of how [easy] it is to lose.”

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Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

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