Arizona struggles at both ends of court, can't follow comeback script in 'no excuses' loss to UCLA.
By STEVE RIVERA FS Arizona
TUCSON, Ariz. –UCLA never got
Arizona’s script. In fact, Arizona never got Arizona's script.
For most of the season, the
Wildcats' big games have gone as follows: dig a hole, find a way to get back in the game, pull out the magic.
On Thursday night, the magic was missing. And "missing" may have been the operative word, as Arizona missed plenty. Emotion, execution, communication. Defeat doesn't come any easier to explain.
Bruins seemingly couldn’t miss, as easy baskets and conversions were the norm en route to an 84-73 road win over the sixth-ranked Wildcats.
"No excuses,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “They did a lot of things to cause us problems.”
Thursday night's game was Arizona’s annual White Out at McKale Center, but UA was hardly white-hot in dropping its second game of the season to fall to 16-2 overall and 4-2 in Pac-12 play.
As Miller said more than a couple of times, UCLA was the better team. But not once did Miller feel good about saying it, adding, “I never felt comfortable.”
And that from the head coach of the sixth-ranked team in the country. Unlike in their comebacks against Southern Mississippi, Florida and Colorado (all McKale memories), the Wildcats couldn’t roar back after digging themselves an early 16-point hole.
“We’ve been here a lot of times, but it wasn’t going to be tonight,” Miller said. “That six (when down 72-66 with 3:27 left) didn’t quite feel the same. I don’t know if we ever had that look in our eyes that we’d be OK. We always seemed to be playing catch-up ... because we were.”
Arizona had a 1-0 lead 22 seconds into the game. Seven minutes later, UCLA was ahead 17-3, and it was 21-5 about 12 minutes later. From beginning to end, The Bruins made the Wildcats play “out of character," Miller said.
“That start is such a punch with the crowd we have,” Miller said. “It takes a resilient bunch and takes a lot of good plays to make up that ground. They are a very good team to try to come back against.”
Arizona’s come-from-behind routine had no chance. It was the result of poor communication at the start, poor execution in the middle and, well, poor execution in the end, too.
“There are a lot of things A through Z that, when you lose a game like this, there’s a lot of things responsible,” Miller said.
Arizona shot just 31.4 percent in the first half and had 14 turnovers that resulted in 20 points for UCLA.
“Almost every one of our turnovers led to (a) dunk, a layup, and it was an amazing turn of events,” Miller said.
Arizona couldn’t stop UCLA’s super freshman Shabazz Muhammad, who had 23 points.
UA senior Mark Lyons had his worst game as a Wildcat, scoring 16 points but going 6 for 17 to get there and finishing with five turnovers and no assists.
“We needed him to play well tonight, and he didn’t,” Miller said. “But there are a number of guys who can stand in that same line, including me.”
UA senior Solomon Hill said that when the Wildcats got down, they lost their focus -- at both ends of the floor.
In a microcosm of the evening for Arizona, at one point the Cats missed a layup, missed the follow-up dunk and then air-balled a 5-footer. It was as though a lid had been put on the basket.
“We got down early and didn’t have any communication,” said Hill, who had 13 points and 10 rebounds. “We had some quick shots and weren’t worried about getting back on defense. Coach can’t do it all for us. He’s not out on the floor like that. He can guide us, but on the floor, we have to be a team. We were flustered on defense.”
How does a team get out of a one-game funk?
"Play hard; practice hard,” said UA guard Nick Johnson, who had a game-high-tying 23 points.
And live and learn, or so the coach hopes.
“When you have a loss, sometimes you can get the attention of your team and everyone associated with your team to get better in (certain) areas,” Miller said.
He added: “Sharing the ball and passing the ball and being more patient.”
It's a script that abandoned the Wildcats on Thursday.
“It’s very frustrating, especially in a big game like this,” UA senior Kevin Parrom said. “Sometimes you don’t make easy shots. You have to move on to the next game. We’ll be more prepared the next time we play them.”