Utah Valley St.-Arizona Preview

BY foxsports • December 8, 2014

As long as Arizona continues to play well defensively, coach Sean Miller believes there's time to work out the offensive kinks.

The third-ranked Wildcats would appear to have a good chance to succeed on both ends while trying to hand visiting Utah Valley a fourth consecutive defeat Tuesday night.

Arizona (8-0) is shooting 48.6 percent, but was held under 45 percent in two of the last three games. Both came against ranked opponents in San Diego State and Gonzaga and sandwiched a 56.3-percent effort in a 26-point victory over Gardner-Webb.

The Wildcats shot 32.1 percent in the first half Saturday, then went 14 of 24 to pull out a 66-63 overtime home victory over the then-No. 9 Bulldogs.

"We have to improve," Miller said. "Right now, we're a work in progress offensively."

In addition to their inconsistent shooting from the field, the Wildcats rank outside the top 150 with a 68.7 free-throw percentage.

However, Miller has the luxury of a team which still plays good defense.

While this Arizona squad isn't the caliber of last season's group that ranked among the nation's top 10 in average points allowed (58.6) and defensive field-goal percentage (38.0), it's yielding 60.6 points per contest while opponents are shooting 40.1 percent.

Gonzaga averaged 88.0 points and shot 54.5 percent before the Wildcats held one of the nation's top offenses to season lows for points and shooting (40.4 percent).

''Our defense was very, very good and that's why we won,'' Miller said.

"I believe that day will come (when we score a little easier)," he added. "We may have a little bit more of a margin (because of our defense). Until then, we need to keep doing the things that have allowed us to be successful."

Miller would like to see smoother offensive execution - both in terms of passing and shooting - but with little extended practice time available during the non-conference slate, teaching is at a premium.

"We don't have a stretch where we can take a deep breath and really practice," Miller said. "We've now played eight games, and in each game our team is growing and we're learning."

Freshman forward Stanley Johnson continues to progress while averaging team highs of 13.8 points and 6.4 rebounds. He scored 18 in each of the previous two contests before finishing with 11 versus the Bulldogs.

Brandon Ashley scored a team-high 14 points and guard T.J. McConnell added six of his 12 in the extra period to help the Wildcats to a 26th straight home victory.

"Like many times, we had individual players step up to make big plays and push us over the top," Miller said.

Arizona would seem to be in a good position to fine-tune its offense and continue its defensive success in this first meeting with Utah Valley (3-4).

Averaging 59.1 points, the Wolverines face a daunting task in the finale of a seven-game stretch of road contests. They've also allowed opponents to shoot 46.6 percent, including 50 percent or better on four occasions.

At 12.6 points per game, forward Mitch Bruneel is the only Utah Valley player averaging in double figures. He was held to fewer than 10 points in two of the last three contests.

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