TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Sean Miller sat down after his team shot 60 percent in a 35-point win and talked about what was missing.
For nearly 25 minutes, the Arizona coach kept hitting the same point: Effort, particularly on the defensive end.
The Wildcats don’t have it, at least consistently, and it’s gnawing at Miller, even after a 91-56 rout over Long Beach State on Wednesday night.
“We really struggled to play with great effort and I don’t think we’re going to be very successful until that’s fixed,” Miller said. “We’re a lifeless group a lot of times.”
Arizona (4-3) dropped out of the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2012 following a 0-for-3 trip to the Bahamas. The Wildcats looked much more comfortable back at the McKale Center, shooting 60 percent and making 12 of 22 from 3-point range to win their 44th straight non-conference home game. Allonzo Trier scored 15 points, Deandre Ayton added 13 and six players scored in double figures.
Defensively, they were not as Miller had hoped, particularly after harping on it in practice.
“Disappointed just watching our team where we’re at,” he said. “We’ve had our moments over the last six, seven years where you watch a group, but I don’t know if I’ve seen a group that can’t bring it, can’t work, can’t really fight defensively. Man, is it disappointing.”
Long Beach State coach Dan Monson likes to schedule tough opponents to build the 49ers’ RPI and this season has been no different.
The 49ers (3-5) have already faced Oregon State, West Virginia, Missouri, and Nebraska, with a game against No. 3 Michigan State still to come.
Long Beach State won one of those games — against Oregon State on Nov. 24 — but was never really in it against the big, athletic Wildcats, falling into a 23-point hole in the first half on the way to a blowout loss.
Bryan Alberts led the 49ers with 12 points.
“We were out-manned,” Monson said. “It was not smart scheduling on my part because this is our sixth game on the road in 13 days.”
Arizona needed a bounce back from a lost week in the Bahamas. The Wildcats went into the Battle 4 Atlantis undefeated and ranked No. 2. They came home winless in three games and dropped all the way out of the rankings on Monday, becoming the first team since Louisville in 1986 to drop out of the AP Top 25 from the No. 2 spot.
The big issue: Defense.
Arizona allowed 89 points twice in the three games in the Bahamas and is allowing nearly 75 points per game, high numbers for a Sean Miller-coached team.
The Wildcats were good defensively back at home, contesting shots and jumping into passing lanes while holding the 49ers to 10-of-27 shooting in the first half.
On offense, the Wildcats gave Long Beach State a heavy dose of Ayton early, repeatedly feeding it to the 7-foot-1, 260-pound freshman in the high and low post. Ayton scored six quick points and was good at recognizing double teams, working the ball out to open shooters.
Ayton had 10 points and eight rebounds by halftime, helping Arizona to a 42-24 lead.
The 49ers used a short run to cut Arizona’s lead to 13 early in the second half, but the Wildcats ran away with a series of fast breaks and 3-pointers.
“We got it down to 13, but turned it over three straight times,” Monson said. “We just have to stay together and battle a little bit more as we grow as a team.”
Long Beach State shoots 71 percent from the free-throw line, but went 8 for 17 against Arizona. … The Wildcats had a 38-24 advantage in the paint and nine more rebounds. … The 49ers had 19 turnovers that led to 27 points for Arizona. … Parker Jackson-Cartwright ran Arizona’s offense efficiently, as usual, finishing with 12 points, five assists and one turnover.
Long Beach State was overmatched by the oversized Wildcats, but these tough early-season tests should help them once the Big West season rolls around.
Though the opponent was from a small conference, Arizona appears to be headed back in the right direction on offense. Defensively, they have a lot of room for improvement, according to their coach.
Long Beach State hosts Fresno State on Saturday.
Arizona plays at UNLV on Saturday.
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