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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona loses 81-78, suffers second-straight loss to ASU at Wells Fargo Arena

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Arizona men’s basketball coach Sean Miller reacts to gameplay during Arizona’s 81-78 defeat agaisnt ASU on Saturday at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe, Ariz. The Wildcats lost for the second-straight season at Wells Fargo Arena. 

TEMPE, Ariz. — It wasn’t exactly déjà vu, but it was darn close. Arizona
men’s basketball lost 81-78 and suffered its second-straight defeat against the
ASU Sun Devils at Wells Fargo Arena. Last season’s double overtime loss
provided plenty of heartbreak, and this season’s narrow three point loss
provided more questions than answers.

Right off the bat Arizona struggled to come out with the
intensity that coach Sean Miller expected from his squad. Miller called a
timeout just 55 seconds into the action and it was downhill from there.

“We really didn’t have our defense,” Miller said. “I called
a timeout, I think, about a minute and a half in — and I know our team pretty
well. We didn’t have it at that point and we never got it. Sometimes, as a game
plays itself out, you dig down and really feel you didn’t deserve to win the game. And
really that’s how I felt.”

ASU began the game with a 4-0 run and continued to put
together runs against a struggling Arizona defense. Toward the end of the first
half, the Sun Devils went on a 12-5 run that gave them a 41-34 lead at
halftime.

It didn’t seem like the finishing blow that early, but it
proved to be more than the Wildcats could overcome in the second half.

Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell finished with a game-high
25 points to go along with five rebounds and four assists. McConnell often
paced the Wildcats’ offense throughout and led the charge that gave Arizona a
chance by scoring 16 points in the second half alone.

After the game, the usually talkative McConnell gave a brief
explanation for why the team struggled against the Sun Devils on Saturday.

“The reason we lost was our defense,” McConnell said. “We
gave up 80 points. That’s pretty much all I can say. It was our defense.”

Arizona allowed ASU to shoot 50 percent from the field, 46.7
percent from the 3-point line and 78.6 percent from the free throw line. The
Sun Devils drew 25 personal fouls on Arizona and capitalized on the calls by
going 22-28 from the charity stripe.

By comparison, the Wildcats shot 45.1 percent from the
floor, 37.5 percent from deep and just 57.1 percent from the free throw line,
including several misses down the stretch that could have brought the score
closer.

Four Sun Devils ended with 14 or more points, with reserve
Bo Barnes putting up 18 points, including hitting two 3-pointers and going a
perfect 8-8 from the free throw line. Throw in the hustle of forward Savon Goodman,
who finished with 15 points and nine boards, and it’s no surprise why the
Wildcats lost.  

For an Arizona team that held ASU to just 49 points during
the first matchup between the two rivals, it was a complete and utter defensive
breakdown.

“They were the better team today,” Miller said. “They
executed in a 40 minute ball game on their home court in conference play. That
happens. But were we hitting on all cylinders? Absolutely not.”

Despite putting up 78 points, Miller has a point. Much of
the scoring came from three guys for most of the game: McConnell, Stanley
Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. The trio combined for 55 of Arizona’s 78
points.

Brandon Ashley put up 11 second half points to finish with
13, but was largely ineffective for most of the night. Not to mention Kaleb
Tarczewski put together another weak offensive game. Tarczewski finished with
just two points on 1-6 shooting and bobbled or straight up missed a handful of
passes that easily could have been layups or dunks.

The lack of a consistent interior presence hurt the Wildcats
all night and forced the aforementioned trio of McConnell, Johnson and
Hollis-Jefferson to take matters into their own hands.

As the fans rushed the court at Wells Fargo Arena for the
second consecutive season, it was clear this Arizona team has considerable work
to do before postseason play and is not ready for a No. 1 seed.

“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. Sometimes when you go through this, it’s
a reminder of how [easy] it is to lose.”

_______________

Follow Roberto Payne on Twitter.

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