Sean Miller

Arizona’s offensive execution must improve if they’re to be a national contender

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TUCSON, Ariz. – It isn’t often that a team can score 80 points in regulation (92 for the game) and be open for criticism in regards to their execution on the offensive end of the floor. But that’s the case for No. 3 Arizona, who has a lot of work to do in that regard in spite of their 92-83 overtime win over Colorado.

The Wildcats trailed by as many as 13 points in the first half due in large part to their impatience on the offensive end of the floor, shooting 7-of-27 from the field overall and 3-of-11 from beyond the arc.

And with Colorado finding much better looks the Wildcats were fortunate to trail by just seven points at the break.

“Whether we won or lost my message to the team was going to be the same, and it was that we’re playing with fire with the way we play offense,” head coach Sean Miller said after the game.

In more than a few of Arizona’s games leading into Pac-12 play things came easy in spite of their turnover issues, and it may have spoiled them a bit when it came to how they executed on the offensive end of the floor.

And the refusal to be “greedy” offensively, to not remain patient and work for quality looks, nearly put Arizona in a hole too deep to crawl out of. But they got better, shooting 60% from the field in the second half and that set the stage for another Wildcat comeback.

Mark Lyons led six Wildcats in double figures with 24 points however both he and Nick Johnson (12 points) struggled from the field, combining to shoot 8-of-27 from the field (17-of-18 from the foul line).

Having the resolve to fight back and a 44-33 edge on the glass should be seen as positives that Arizona can build upon, beginning with their game against Utah on Saturday.

But if this team is to take their 13-0 start and turn it into something truly special down the line, they have to get better offensively.

“All of a sudden we were taking fast shots and turning the ball over; it was an issue. That is a lesson we have learned,” said Miller. “If we play that way going forward, it’s not going to look good.”

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Some conference matchups play out before football

Oregon forward Dillon Brooks, left, reacts after scoring a basket against Utah during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. Oregon defeated Utah 77-59. (AP Photo/George Frey)
(AP Photo/George Frey)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Utah at No. 16 Oregon, 4:00 p.m.

From Rob Dauster’s Weekend Preview:

Utah suffered one of the worst losses I’ve seen in a while on Thursday night, when Brandon Taylor, for some unknown reason, decided to foul an Oregon State player firing up a half court prayer at the buzzer. The Utes, who are arguably the second-best team in the Pac-12, will look to bounce-back on Sunday against the best team in the Pac-12, No. 16 Oregon at 4:00 p.m.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. No. 12 SMU will attempt to stay atop the American standings as they travel to South Florida. While the Mustangs won the first matchup between these two teams at home by 14, they’ve dropped their last two games on the road.

2. A few more American contests are going down as East Carolina travels to UConn and Houston heads to Tulsa. The game between the Cougars and Golden Hurricane is especially interesting because both teams are sitting two games back of SMU and trying to make a move on the postseason.

3. No. 5 Iowa continues the soft part of the schedule as they face Illinois on the road. The Hawkeyes posted recent easy victories over Northwestern and Penn State and will be heavily favored again on Sunday.

4. Could be an intriguing game as No. 17 Miami travels to Georgia Tech. Although the Yellow Jackets aren’t a major contender in the ACC, they’ve been tough this season, especially at home. The Hurricanes fell victim to Georgia Tech last season while they were ranked by Marcus Georges-Hunt has to get back on track after a recent slump for that to happen.

5. There is an Atlantic 10 game that will be featured on NBCSN on Sunday: Saint Louis at St. Bonaventure (2:00 p.m.).

CLICK HERE to watch these games on NBC Sports Live Extra Sunday afternoon.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.