Arizona seeks cure for turnover epidemic

Arizona seeks cure for turnover epidemic

Published Jan. 18, 2012 2:36 p.m. ET

TUCSON – Not long ago, Arizona coach Sean Miller said the only thing worse than a bad shot is no shot at all.

Well, that's exactly the predicament the Wildcats have found themselves in too frequently of late -- getting too few opportunities to shoot because of too many turnovers. It's a problem that had Miller's full attention Tuesday when he met with the media.

“It’s hard to have fun in college basketball when your team is as inept in taking care of the ball as we have become,’’ Miller said.

In last week's split against the Oregon schools, Arizona had 28 in the two games, 15 in their loss to the Ducks.

And it wasn't just the number, it was the timing. Miller said 13 of the 15 turnovers against Oregon came in the first 22 minutes, when the game was all but decided as the Ducks built a 17-point lead.

Miller said the "disheartening" trend can't continue to happen if Arizona (12-6 overall, 3-2 Pac-12) is going to have any chance of staying in the upper half of the conference.

An immediate improvement is priority No. 1 as Arizona hits the road this week for games at Utah on Thursday night and Colorado on Sunday.

“When we walk in now, it’s not like the other team can’t eat or sleep because they are worried," Miller said. "When they see us coming in, we’re not striking fear in anybody.’’

That goes for Utah, despite the Utes' struggles in their first season in the Pac-12. The Utes (4-13, 1-4) like to slow the pace, placing a higher premium on efficient possessions and a heavier penalty on carelessness.

“We can’t catch the ball now when the weather is warm,’’ Miller said, not once cracking a smile, “I can only imagine when the air is thin.’’

With the exception of the Oregon State game, Arizona has had no fewer than 15 in any of its five Pac-12 games. It is averaging 15.2 turnovers in conference play, worse than every team but one (Arizona State), after averaging slightly more than 12 in non-conference play.

“We’re a team that has become careless with the ball,’’ Miller said. “We play three guards and two forwards so you’d think it would be one of the team’s strengths, but it’s one of the team’s weaknesses.’’

Miller said it's not just one player or position, but a team-wide issue that has become the top priority in practice. He said many of the problems can be overcome by focusing on basic fundamentals, like handling the ball properly.

“You want to catch the ball with two hands,’’ Miller said. “Sometimes when you catch the ball with two hands you’ve got to catch it. We have a couple of guys that if they were catching Frisbees they’d be one for three or four every time that thing came out of the air.’’

Miller did find one positive aspect to bring up at Tuesday's session: The Wildcats' continued strong defensive effort -- a "night and day" improvement over last year. Opponents are shooting 40 percent from the field and 27 percent on 3-pointers, and those numbers drop to 38.7 and 25.7 in conference games.

“There (are) a lot of positives on that side of the ball,’’ he said.

Arizona junior Kevin Parrom has a total of five points in the last four games as he struggles in his return from a difficult off-season. He was shot in the hand and knee in late September while home visiting his ill mother. She passed away a couple of weeks later. This came after his grandmother died in the summer.

“We’re trying to get the most out of him we can,’’ Miller said.

In hindsight, Miller said, Parrom might have benefitted from sitting out the season as a redshirt: "You could make the argument, (it) could have served him well,’’ he said.