Miller's 'worst defensive team' looks to bounce back against USC
The Pac-12's two-school Arizona faction has failed to make anything of their overlapping trips to face the two Los Angeles teams, and the coach of the highest ranked among the four has little confidence his squad can stop the more offensively adept California school across the city.
After a loss to the other traditional conference power, No. 7 Arizona visits the Galen Center on Saturday night where Southern California awaits hoping to continue an outbreak of perimeter shooting.
The Wildcats (13-2, 1-1) fell 87-84 to UCLA on Thursday at Pauley Pavilion, while the Trojans (13-3, 2-1) were busy across town handing Arizona State a 75-65 defeat. The Los Angeles schools now stay put while their Arizona foes try for better in an alternative gym.
Arizona, however, is probably less concerned with convincing a California crowd of its worth than it is with winning over its coach. Sean Miller was furious with his team's lazy defense, and that showed up in the box score with the Bruins shooting 51.6 percent and hitting 11 of 22 from 3-point range. Bryce Alford hit the go-ahead 3 with 1.8 seconds left, and the game's exclamation point led into Miller's own pronouncement.
"This is the worst defensive team that I've coached at Arizona since my first year," he said. "The last shot of the game is a reflection of that. We didn't switch Kaleb Tarczewski onto Bryce Alford. You literally have to be out of your mind to do that. But we did our own thing on the last play and he took the easiest shot he's ever taken in Pauley Pavilion on a game-winner."
Opponents have shot 48.6 percent over the last three games after entering that span at 39.7, and Arizona's season mark of 41.6 percent is already higher than the past four seasons despite being two games into the conference schedule.
The latest effort overshadowed the Wildcats' seventh straight game with at least 82 points, a stretch over which they've averaged 87.1 points, shot 52.0 percent overall and 40.7 from long range.
Tarczewski, who had 12 points and 12 rebounds, was a little more optimistic for what the loss means going forward.
"There are a lot of lessons that we can learn from this game," said Tarczewski, who played in his second game after missing eight with a foot injury. "Even with all the mistakes that we made we were still in it at the end, that's a big testament to how hard the guys on the team play and how much we all want to win."
The Wildcats are now up against a USC team that ranks second in the conference with 83.1 points per game, and the Trojans have shot 51.1 percent from the field and 51.4 from 3 in the last four.
The result was surpassing last season's win total and having a shot at matching their 14-3 record to start 2001-02, and it came with Julian Jacobs hobbled by an ankle injury.
The guard finished with a team-high 15 points for a second straight game, and he's 11 for 15 from the field in that time.
"I didn't think he'd play tonight," coach Andy Enfield said. "But he was so emphatic about playing I felt my hands were tied, and he came in here and played a great game."
It'll take quite a bit more to make up the difference in the series lately. Arizona won 87-57 at home last season following a 73-53 win at USC in 2013-14. Tarczewski had 15 points and nine rebounds last season as the Wildcats limited the Trojans to 31.6 percent, though 16 of their 18 field goals came from beyond the arc.