Wildcats zoned out in loss to Oregon State
No. 7 Arizona was zoned out. And its defense hardly zoned in.
Defeat isn’t any easier to explain for the Wildcats, which lost for the second time in three weeks after falling to host Oregon State, 58-56 Sunday night in Corvallis, Ore.
For the day, three of college basketball’s top 10 teams fell after Arizona joined Duke and Wisconsin.
On at least two occurrences during his postgame radio show, Arizona coach Sean Miller said, "We don’t deserve to win the basketball game."
He is right. Arizona didn’t.
The zone defense appears to be the blue-print to beat one of the better teams in college basketball. Oregon State did it to near perfection, limiting Arizona to 37.8 percent from the floor. Only Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and T.J. McConnell reached double figures scoring.
That from a team with four or five players in double-figures regularly. Hollis-Jefferson had 14 points; McConnell had 13. Freshman Stanley Johnson took only four shots and had seven points. He didn’t score in the first half.
Kaleb Tarczewski did not grab a rebound in 23 minutes; Brandon Ashley had just three rebounds. Arizona was outrebounded 32-26, primarily because of the zone.
"They did what UNLV followed (but) different in that they had a much smaller team," Miller said of Oregon State. "Because of (them) playing four guards we decided to play small. But they just picked on individual defenders. We had a couple of guys play bad defensively. They just couldn’t guard their man."
It prompted Miller to say what seemingly is the unthinkable for a Miller-coached team: he’s thinking of playing a zone too. Miller long has played man to man.
"Being able to mix in a zone — when you say that, ‘finally play a zone’ — that’s not the solve-all," Miller said. "That comes with other problems when you do it."
That might be the solution because the most surprising thing of the night — outside of the loss — was Arizona couldn’t stop the Beavers in the second half. Oregon State hit 11 of 17 shots to keep the game close and eventually went ahead on a Langston Morris-Walker lay-up with 28 seconds left. Miller said if his team would have been able to get a stop it would have won. But it just couldn’t.
"Arizona is as good as advertised but we just played good," Morris-Walker said after the game on the FOX Sports 1 broadcast.
How did he get to the basket for the easy game-winner?
"I know they were in panic mode and they were scrambling around so I just took advantage," he said.
Panic mode didn’t suit Arizona well all night. Miller added Oregon State got to the free throw line 17 times in the second half after not getting there in the first half.
Arizona had a 21-20 lead at the half but looked lethargic and uninspired because of the zone. But it’s not like the Wildcats hadn’t seen it before. Teams this season that stayed close and gave Arizona fits for parts of the games played zone. Arizona was 6 for 23 from the floor and 1 for 10 from beyond the 3-point line in the first half.
What kept the Wildcats in the game was they committed few turnovers and outscored Oregon 18-13 from the free throw line.
"Their zone really had us stymied," Miller said. "They pushed us away from the basket. We didn’t get a lot of good shots."
Still, Arizona was up. Miller said he asked his team to play just as hard on defense and asked to do a better job on offense. It didn’t happen.
"They are quick in (the zone)," Miller said. "They are not going to lose games because of their lack of defense. It may be more because of their lack of firepower. Against us in the second half they did an excellent job. We didn’t deserve to win the game."